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UCI shooting may have been custody dispute

September 14, 2009 12:01:47 AM PDT
Orange County police are investigating whether a custody battle sparked a deadly shooting on the University of California, Irvine campus.Eyewitness News has learned that the victim filed for divorce in January and a judge decided the case just last week. According to documents, the suspect, who lives on the Irvine campus, was ordered to pay double the amount of child support that he had been paying. It is not clear if that was behind the argument that started Sunday night that led to the shooting.

Authorities say it is the first-ever homicide on the UC Irvine campus.

Rebecca Benedict, 30, was gunned down outside a housing complex for graduate students at UC Irvine.

The suspected shooter is Brian Benedict, Rebecca's 35-year-old ex-husband and a graduate student studying physics.

The shooting happened just after 7 p.m. Sunday, just steps from Brian's apartment in the parking lot of a graduate-student housing complex on South Vernano Road and Adobe Circle Road.

Witnesses heard the man and woman arguing inside the UCI apartment. Police say Rebecca left the apartment, but Brian followed her to the parking lot and allegedly shot her. A handgun was recovered at the scene.

"The suspect followed behind the victim and fired several shots with a handgun, striking her at least one time," said Irvine Police Lt. John Hare.

"I saw a guy with a gun chasing a woman from this way down to the corner," said witness Feng Jiang. "The woman was screaming. The guy didn't say anything."

"Sounded like gunshots or firecrackers, I wasn't too sure," said student Edgar Martinez. "I looked down my balcony to see what was going on. I couldn't see anything and I find out later that there was a shooting."

Rebecca Benedict died at the hospital. Police say witnesses tackled the suspect and held him for police.

Investigators say Rebecca had stopped by Brian's apartment to pick up their 4-year-old son. Rebecca had full custody and Brian had visitation rights. That's when the couple started arguing.

Authorities won't say if the couple's son saw what happened, but one witness says he heard a distraught child after the shooting stopped.

"Just screaming, a child screaming," said Feng Jiang.

Investigators say just over a week ago, Brian visited with authorities to request information on custody issues.

"It was less than a 10-minute contact and there was nothing unusual in his questioning, there was nothing out of the ordinary in his demeanor or behavior at that time," said Jeff Hutchison, assistant chief of UC Irvine Police.

The murder is startling in what's been ranked one of the safest cities in the U.S.

"It's definitely bizarre," said student Natalia Newcomb. "I mean, this is Irvine, you know? Safe place to be on campus housing, so you definitely think you're invulnerable from this kind of thing."

Counselors are on hand to talk with people who need help. In the meantime, Brian Benedict remains in custody, his bail set at $1 million.

Police say the 4-year-old boy is safe and is staying with other family members.

Eyewitness News Reporter Rob Hayes contributed to this report.

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