X-Rays Needed to ID Victims in “Santa” Killer Case

Coroner's officials said Saturday that x-rays would likely be used to identify the bodies of nine victims killed by a Santa-clad gunman who killed partygoers at his former in-laws' Covina home on Christmas Eve, caused an explosion that gutted the house and later killed himself.

"I don't know what condition the bodies are in, but usually if we can't do fingerprints or a visual I.D., we use x-rays," a coroner's investigator said of the bodies that Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the coroner's office described on Friday as being "charred to the point they are not  recognizable."

Winter said it was not possible to determine if the victims died of gunshot wounds or the explosion, and positive confirmation could take several days.
Among those believed to have been killed by Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, in the 11:30 p.m. Wednesday attack at the two-story home in the 1100 block of East  Knollcrest Drive were the gunman's 43-year-old ex-wife, Sylvia Ortega, and her parents, Joseph Ortega, 80, and his wife Alicia, 70. 

James Ortega Jr. and Charles Ortega, and their wives Sherry and Terry, respectively, and Alice Ortiz and her teenage son Michael Ortiz were also killed, according to NBCLA. Reports indicated that James and Charles Ortega were the brothers of the gunman's ex-wife.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Sylvia Ortega's three children were at the party but survived.

"The entire family was wiped out," Scott Nord, the Ortega family attorney, told NBCLA. "There's basically like 16 orphans."

Two shooting victims are both expected to survive -- an 8-year-old who is recovering from a bullet that entered her lower lip and then went through her jaw, and a 16-year-old girl shot in the back, Raney said. A third survivor, another young woman, suffered a broken ankle when she escaped by jumping out of a second-story window, police said.

Authorities released a 911 call Friday of the woman who escaped to a neighbor's house, frantically telling a dispatcher that her ex-brother-in-law was shooting at her family in Covina and that her "mom's house is on fire."

Covina police Chief Kim Raney said investigators did not expect to find any additional victims in the rubble of the home, where about 25 family  members were gathered when the 6-foot-3-inch gunman arrived at the residence uninvited and rang the doorbell.
Pardo "immediately was confronted with an 8-year-old child who thought Santa Claus had come to the house," Raney said. "He shot her once in the face and then proceeded inside the residence," where he emptied four "high-powered, semi-automatic handguns" on the crowd before using a homemade pressurized fuel tank to release a gas vapor inside the home, the chief said.
Pardo, who had parked his car in the driveway one house east of the party location, carried with him a homemade device "that basically consisted of two tanks, one which contained either oxygen or CO2 and the other, smaller tank appeared to contain racing fuel," Raney said.

Raney said there was no indication that Pardo himself ignited the vapor, which investigators believe was sparked either by a pilot light or candle inside the house, causing the explosion.

Despite suffering third-degree burns on both arms in the explosion, which also caused his Santa Claus suit to melt onto his body, Pardo then managed to drive about 40 miles to Sylmar, where the unemployed electrical engineer booby-trapped his rental car before shooting himself to death at his brother's home about 3:30 a.m. Christmas Day, police said.

When Pardo's body was recovered later in Sylmar, investigators discovered that he had $17,000 in cash "Saran-wrapped to his legs or concealed inside of a girdle that he was wearing," Raney said.

Raney added that the gunman also had a plane ticket for a flight from LAX to Canada on Christmas morning, indicating that he intended to commit the crime and then flee the country.

"What it appears is that he didn't anticipate injuring himself to the point where obviously he took his own life," Raney said.

When detectives went to the Sylmar address in the 15800 block of Joseph Court, they found the keys to the suspect's rental car, which had been described by witnesses, about a block away and saw the Santa suit inside.

Raney said it appeared that Pardo intended to cause more damage by wiring the Santa Claus suit, so when it was moved, a trip wire or switch would ignite a flare inside the car, igniting an explosion of several hundred rounds of ammunition inside the car.

"While the sheriff's department bomb squad was rendering the device safe, it did activate... and the car did burst into flames and was destroyed," he said.

It was not immediately clear how police were able to avoid triggering an explosion when they first discovered the contraption.

At Pardo's Montrose residence, detectives found high-octane racing fuel, five empty boxes for semi-automatic handguns, as well as two high-powered shotguns, Raney said.

Raney said they did not believe Pardo had any military experience, but he claimed to have a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering. Police were continuing to look into his background to try and understand what triggered the attack besides the marital break-up.

Although there was no restraining order between Pardo and his ex-wife, Raney said the divorce was finalized at a "somewhat contentious" court hearing last Thursday.

The divorce settlement allowed Pardo to keep the Montrose home, while his ex-wife received $10,000, NBCLA reported, citing court records that cited the standard "irreconcilable differences" for the split.

Pardo recently lost his job with ITT, a defense contractor in Van Nuys where he had worked as a software engineer for several years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"According to family sources, he then disappeared for about a month," Raney said. "We understand he might have gone to the Midwest and East Coast and returned to California sometime in December."

Pardo's resume also indicates that he worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1985 to 1994 and had also held positions at medical centers and software manufacturers.
Police also told reporters that Pardo had a son from a previous relationship with "some  challenges," but did not elaborate. Family members told The Times that the boy, who is about 9, nearly drowned when he was a year old and was left physically handicapped.

Pardo did not support the boy financially but claimed him as a dependent on his tax returns for seven years, the newspaper reported. A family source said his ex-wife found out and demanded he stop claiming the child as a dependent, a situation which helped lead to their break-up last January.

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