Friday, December 26, 2008

Ninth body found in ruins of 'Santa massacre' home

A car exploded outside the home of Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, who is suspected in the deaths of nine people.
A ninth body has been found in the rubble of a home that was set afire after a shooting rampage by a man in a Santa Claus suit, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said Friday.

On Thursday night a pipe bomb exploded in a rental car used by the man suspected in the Christmas Eve attack, police said.

The car was parked outside a Sylmar, California, home where Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, committed suicide hours after he opened fire at a holiday party and then started a raging blaze inside a Covina, California, home, police said.

Investigators have yet to identify the charred bodies recovered from the burned house, which belonged to Pardo's ex-in-laws. Eight bodies were found in the hours after the fire; the ninth person had been counted as missing.

Police said they have not accounted for three people: Pardo's ex-mother-in-law, ex-father-in-law and ex-wife -- whom he recently divorced.

A police bomb squad was attempting to render safe a suspicious device in the rental car when it erupted in flames Thursday night, Los Angeles Police Sgt. James Bender told the Los Angeles Times.

According to CNN affiliate KABC, no one was injured in the explosion. KABC also reports the bomb squad did not turn up anything at Pardo's home.

The incident prompted police to evacuate houses near Pardo's Montrose, California, home out of concern he may have left bombs there. The street was reopened late Thursday.

Pardo's neighbors talked to KABC on Thursday as they watched police search his home.

"He's very nice, very sociable," Cindy Keenan said. She said Pardo always decorated his home for the holidays.

Patrick Guzman said when he encountered Pardo in his yard about two hours before the attack, "He seemed normal."

"He said 'Merry Christmas' to me," Guzman said.

Police said about 25 people attended the holiday party. The gunman, dressed in a full Santa Claus outfit, came in the front door and then moved through the house, firing two semiautomatic handguns and using an apparently homemade pressurized device to spread an accelerant.

The first victim was an 8-year-old girl who ran to the door after hearing a knock, police said. She was shot in the face but survived.

"She has a very, very severe injury to her face. It's not life-threatening, but she's got a very tough road ahead of her," Lt. Pat Buchanan of the Covina Police Department said at a news conference Thursday.

Covina Police Chief Kim Raney said people at the party were jumping out of windows on both floors of the house trying to escape the gunfire and flames.

"The information we have so far is that Mr. Pardo was married to the daughter of the resident of the house," Raney said. "They'd been married for possibly one year, had recently divorced and a settlement was reached apparently last week. It sounds like that might have been a very contentious divorce."

Police have not yet released the identities of the victims.

In addition to the nine people killed, police said three people were injured, including the 8-year-old girl. A 16-year-old girl was wounded by gunfire and was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, police said, and a woman who jumped out of a second-floor window suffered a broken leg and was hospitalized.

Ed Winter, assistant chief Los Angeles County coroner, said the bodies recovered were "severely burned and charred" and dental and medical records and X-rays will be necessary to establish identities.

Winter said the intense fire caused the top floor of the two-story house to collapse onto the first floor.

Pardo's body was discovered about 30 miles from the shooting scene at his brother's house in the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar, dead from "a self-inflicted gunshot wound," police said. Relatives returning to the house found Pardo's body, police said.

Buchanan said police received several 911 calls at 8:27 p.m. Wednesday. When officers arrived at the house three to four minutes after the first call, the dwelling was engulfed in flames.

The fire was so intense that firefighters battled the blaze for an hour and a half before knocking the flames down so that officers "were able to look into the house from the outside, and initially saw three bodies in the front portion of the house," he said.

Buchanan said people who were able to flee the building reported that once the gunman was in the house, "he fired multiple rounds into the people attending the party and multiple people were struck."

People hid under furniture and tried to flee by whatever exits they could find, including windows, he said.

As uninjured people were trying to escape, Buchanan said "that's when he (Pardo) lit the accelerant in some manner -- we do not know how at this point -- and he fled the scene."

Buchanan said the device that spread accelerant was "nothing that we or the arson-explosives unit has ever seen before. It appears to be homemade."

A Christmas Eve party at the house was a family tradition, Raney said, and the party had often featured a visit from a neighbor who was dressed as Santa Claus. He said that neighbor has moved out of the neighborhood and was not at the party Wednesday night.

Referring to Pardo, Buchanan said, "We don't know at this point whether he was aware that there was a Santa Claus in years past. We're assuming that he did, and that's the reason for the outfit."

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