"Santa" Gunman Planned to Escape to Canada, Police Say - NBC Southern California

"Santa" Gunman Planned to Escape to Canada, Police Say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    COVINA, Calif.  —Police revealed more details about the man who dressed in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve and killed 9 people and burned down a house in the Covina home of his former in-laws. Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, an unemployed electrical engineer whose divorce agreement had recently been finalized, was critically burned in the explosion that accompanied the house fire, but he managed to drive to Sylmar, where he booby-trapped his rental car and then shot himself to death at his brother's home at about 3:30 a.m. on Christmas Day.

    Police said Pardo shot some of the nine victims execution-style.

    Police released tape of a 911 all from Pardo's former sister-in-law, Leticia Yuzefpolsky, the mother of the 8-year-old first shot by Pardo as he launched is rampage. (See video, left.)

    Authorities also say Pardo, 45, committed suicide rather than flee to Canada only because he accidentally burned himself. When his body was found at his brother's Sylmar house, Pardo was carrying $17,000 in cash and a plane ticket for a Christmas morning flight to Canada.

    Police say Pardo brought four handguns with him and emptied them. He then used a homemade device to spray racing fuel around the home, and the vapor was ignited by a pilot light or candle. He suffered third-degree burns on both arms when it exploded. Pardo's Santa suit actually melted onto his body before he fled.

    Authorities believe Pardo intended to do more damage by booby-trapping his rental car before fleeing the country. Although his getaway plans were ruined when he was critically burned, authorities say Pardo packed the vehicle with ammunition and black powder and rigged it to explode with a trigger attached to the Santa outfit, which he left inside. The vehicle burst into flames as a bomb squad was examining it, but no one was hurt.
     
    Pardo's victims were burned beyond recognition, but among those believed to have been killed in the 11:30 p.m. Wednesday attack were the 45-year-old gunman's ex-wife, Sylvia Ortega, 43, and her parents, Joseph Ortega, 80, and his wife Alicia, 70.

    Public records show the gutted two-story home on a cul-de-sac in the 1100 block of East Knollcrest Drive is owned by Joseph Ortega. Sylvia Ortega had just finalized her divorce from Pardo last Thursday, and the electrical engineer had recently lost his job.
            
    Authorities believe the youngest victim was 17 years old, but positive confirmation via dental and medical records could take at least several days, according to Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

    "Santa" Massacre - 911 Call

    [LA] "Santa" Massacre - 911 Call
    Police release a 911 call from Pardo's former sister-in-law who was hiding at a neighbor's house.
    (Published Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008)

    The bodies were "charred to the point they are not recognizable," he said, and he could not say whether they died of gunshot wounds or due to the explosion.

    Covina police Chief Kim Raney said investigators did not expect to find any additional victims in the rubble of the home, where about 25 people were  gathered when the 6-foot-3-inch gunman arrived at the residence uninvited and rang the doorbell.
     
    He "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.
     
    "As he went into the house, he began shooting at the partygoers ... indiscriminately," Raney said. "It appears that he did have some intended targets, those being the family members and immediate family of his ex-wife."
      
    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.

    Background of "Santa" Shooter

    [LA] Background of "Santa" Shooter
    Investigators say the man suspected in a Christma Eve massacre that killed at least 8 people did not have a violent history.
    (Published Friday, Dec. 26, 2008)

    " ... Once he mixed those two items, it would turn into a vapor or atomize ...," the chief said. "Once the shooting stopped, it appeared that he then retrieved the homemade device, activated that and went through the house basically ... releasing a gas vapor inside."

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

    "Mr. Pardo was severely injured during that explosion," the chief said. "He suffered third-degree burns on both arms. It also appears that the Santa Claus suit that he was wearing did melt onto his body."

    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.
      
    "He also had a plane ticket for ... an early morning flight Thursday, Christmas morning, from LAX to Canada, so all indications are that he intended to commit this crime and then flee the country," the chief said. "What it appears is that he didn't anticipate injuring himself to the point where obviously he took his own life."  
      
    The 8-year-old -- the bullet entered her lower lip and went through her jaw -- was one of two shooting victims to escape from the house. Another was a 16-year-old girl shot in the back, but both were expected to survive, Raney said.
     
    Another young woman, who escaped by jumping out of a second-story window, suffered a broken or sprained ankle, police 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.

    "What it appears is that in spite of the third-degree burns, Mr. Pardo still had the intent to cause more damage," Raney said. "He basically wired the Santa Claus suit" so that when it was moved, a trip wire or switch "would ignite a flare inside the car which would then ignite black powder."

    The chief said several hundred rounds of handgun ammunition were 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.
     
    Detectives served a search warrant at Pardo's Montrose residence, where they found high-octane racing fuel, five empty boxes for semi-automatic handguns, as well as two high-powered shotguns, Raney said.

    "Mr. Pardo, to our knowledge, has no military experience," he said.  "We are still doing a lot of background work to find out more about who he is and what might have been his motivation besides the obvious, with the marital issues that were going on in the relationship."
     
    He said there was no restraining order between Pardo and his ex-wife, whose divorce was finalized at a "somewhat contentious" court hearing last
    Thursday.
     
    Detectives found a resume apparently prepared by Pardo, who had lived with Ortega and her three children in Montrose.

    "I can't verify the authenticity of it, but Mr. Pardo does claim to have a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in electrical engineering (and)
    was employed by a radar system (company) that did some foreign government radar system projects," the chief said.
      
    "He was terminated from employment there in October 2008. According to
    family sources, he then disappeared for about a month. 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 (emotional) challenges, but did not elaborate.
     
    Arriving firefighters were temporarily held at bay by police, who had received multiple reports of a mass shooting. Eventually, the house was gutted, and the roof collapsed.
      
    The police chief said it was "very traumatic" and "very emotional scene" for first-responders.
     
    Jan Detanna, who attended Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose with Pardo, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that he had been an usher for the past five or six years and had been expected at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
     
    "He was just the nicest guy. He would do anything for the church," Detanna said. "It's a shock ..."

    Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton said the community was reeling.

    "We are in shock, as many people are, that the event that could have happened anywhere in the world happened here -- that an individual with some obvious mental issues took the lives of a number of victims in a most unfortunate event," he said.
     
    "We're a very close community, a very supportive community, and this is our opportunity for everybody to reach out," Stapleton said. "So we're in the process of doing that; we're going to try to return some degree of normalcy to the community as quickly as possible ..."

     To help survivors of the Christmas massacre in Covina, contact family attorney Scott Nord at 818-553-8075, 500 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.