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Covina offers grief counseling to residents

Covina police to hold community meeting to discuss Christmas Eve massacre
December 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The mayor of Covina says the city wants to offer grief counseling to residents in the neighborhood where a man dressed as Santa Claus killed nine people on Christmas Eve. Covina police will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. at Royal Oak Middle School at 303 S. Glendora Ave. to discuss the tragedy.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo is suspected of dressing up as Santa Claus and fatally shooting nine members of his ex-wife's family before setting the house on fire. Pardo committed suicide hours later at his brother's house in Sylmar.

On Saturday, police located a second car rented by 45-year-old Pardo. Inside, police say they found evidence that Pardo may have planned to head to Mexico after the killings.

Officers called in the bomb squad to investigate the car, fearing that it may have been booby-trapped. Another rental car used by Pardo to flee the attack scene was found by officers on Thursday and was rigged with explosives. That first vehicle was detonated and no one was injured. The second rental vehicle was not booby-trapped.

The latest vehicle is described as a 1999 Toyota RAV4, gray in color, with California license #5RYD562. The vehicle was rented from a car rental agency in Pasadena on December 19, 2008 and should have been returned on December 26, 2008.

Inside the second rental vehicle were a map of Mexico, water bottles, a gas canister, two computers and some wrapped Christmas gifts, according to police.

On Thursday, authorities found $17,000 on deceased suspect Pardo's body, and a plane ticket for a flight from Los Angeles to Moline, Illinois. It was originally reported that the plane ticket was for a flight to Canada.

The Covina Police Department said the primary suspect in the assault, Bruce Jeffery Pardo, committed suicide early Thursday morning at his brother's home in Sylmar. (VIEW: Photo of Bruce Pardo) His body was discovered by his brother around 3:30 a.m. Thursday. Pardo had a single gunshot wound to his head.

At approximately 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, officers responded to several 911 calls of shots fired in a Covina neighborhood. (LISTEN: 911 call) They arrived at the house on the 1100 block of Knollcrest Drive and heard sounds of gunfire. The house was partially engulfed in flames.

Police arrived as numerous people were exiting the residence. Witnesses from inside the house said a person dressed as Santa Claus came to the house, the scene of a holiday party with as many as 25 people in attendance.

Police said the costumed suspect arrived at the Covina house party with four handguns and started shooting indiscriminately. He was also carrying a large gift-wrapped box that contained a homemade incendiary-propellant device. An 8-year-old girl answered the door and was shot in the face by the gunman, who then began shooting into the crowd. Then the man used the incendiary device to spray accelerant into the house and set the house on fire. He suffered third-degree burns on both arms when it exploded. Authorities say the intensityof the flames actually melted part of Pardo's Santa suit onto his body before he fled.

A 16-year-old girl was shot in the back, and a 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when she escaped by jumping from a second-story window. Those two, and the 8-year-old, remained hospitalized. All were expected to recover.

Firefighters extinguished the house fire by 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

A cursory search of the burned-out house by police revealed three bodies inside. Their causes of death were not released. Five more bodies were later found. The ninth body was found Friday morning in the gutted structure. Authorities were unable to immediately determine whether the victims were killed by the flames or the gunfire.

Public records show the Covina home is owned by Pardo's ex-wife's father, Joseph Ortega. Two handguns were found in the wreckage of the burned home.

Carol Sanchez says she dated Pardo in the 1980s for about four years. She went to look at the crime scene Friday and was in disbelief.

"I'm shocked, I just went through pictures just recently and I saw all these pictures of him from when we dated," said Sanchez. "I'm just like, I'm blown away by this. I just can't believe something like this he would do."

In Sylmar, at the home of suspect Bruce Pardo's brother, Covina detectives uncovered two more handguns and the key to a rental car on Pardo's body. They found the car parked a short distance away from the home on Herrick Avenue. Authorities also found $17,000 on his body, and a plane ticket for a flight from Los Angeles to Moline, Illinois. It was originally reported that the plane ticket was for a flight to Canada.

The detectives noticed what seemed to be a suspicious device in the car, and called the bomb squad, who were already checking out Pardo's own home in Montrose. The bomb squad sent part of their team to Sylmar. Once they found the rental car, they attempted to render it safe, but an incendiary device was somehow ignited and the car blew up. That device is now believed to have been a pipe bomb.

No one was injured in the Sylmar incident. The bomb squad did not turn up anything further at Pardo's home in Montrose.

"Mr. Pardo was going through some type of marital problems, and we believe that this residence is a relative's residence," said Covina Police Lieutenant Pat Buchanan during a press conference Thursday.

Pardo had no criminal record and no history of violence, according to police, but he was reportedly angry about a recent divorce settlement, which was finalized six days before the assault. He and his ex-wife had been married for about one year. Pardo had also reportedly just lost his job as an aerospace engineer.

Scott Nord was Sylvia Pardo's divorce attorney. Nord confirmed the identities of the deceased, but the coroner's office has not officially confirmed them:

  • Alicia Ortega, 70, owner of home
  • Joseph Ortega, 80, owner of home
  • Sylvia Pardo, 43, daughter of Alicia and Joseph, Bruce Pardo's ex-wife
  • Charles Ortega, 50, son of Alicia and Joseph, Sylvia's brother
  • Cheri Ortega, 45, Charles's wife
  • Joseph Ortega Junior, 52, son of Alicia and Joseph, Sylvia's brother
  • Teresa Ortega, 51, Joseph Jr.'s wife
  • Alicia Ortiz, 46, daughter of Alicia and Joseph, Sylvia's sister
  • Michael Ortiz, 17, Alicia's son, Sylvia's nephew

Three days after the tragedy in Covina, family and friends returned to the home where the massacre took place. They came with flowers, cards and candles; trying to make sense of what happened and how to say goodbye to the nine victims.

"I just had to come and say goodbye," said Linda Perez, a family friend. "I've been to this house ... I don't know how many times. I knew every single person that he murdered. It's just not fair.

"I feel like part of my life is in there with them," said Delores Villa, a family member of the victims. "I can't even believe it. None of us. Nobody. We're just like, 'What?'"

"It doesn't make any sense. He just seemed like he liked belonging. I don't know if that's what made him snap, that he wasn't going to belong to all of this anymore," said Perez.

Checks may be mailed to
Ortega Family Fund
C/O Law Offices of Scott J. Nord
500 N. Brand Boulevard
Suite 550, Glendale, Calif., 91203

If you have any additional information about this incident, please call the Covina Police Department at (626) 858-4415 or the Watch Commander at (626) 858-4429.