TUSTIN, Calif. — The first of three people killed in a gunman’s rampage was identified Wednesday as a 20-year-old woman but police did not know why she was in the home of the shooter, who lived with his parents and was described by authorities as a video game-playing loner.
Courtney Aoki, 20, of Buena Park was shot multiple times early Tuesday in the home where gunman Ali Syed, 20, lived, said Orange County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.
Authorities don’t know her occupation, how she might have known Syed, how she got in the house — or what drove Syed to kill her with a shotgun and then leave a trail of dead and wounded as he stole a series of cars and eventually committed suicide at an intersection.
“There is no evidence, no notes that would explain his very bizarre and violent behavior,” Amormino said, adding there was no evidence of a sexual assault and the woman was found fully clothed.
The shootings and carjackings lasted about an hour and created chaos and terror for early morning commuters who were shot at, had their car stolen or saw someone get shot.
In one 911 call, a panicked construction worker reported that the foreman at his business had been shot and one of the company’s trucks stolen. The man then followed Syed in another truck as he fled on the freeway, telling a dispatcher his location.
“The guy has a shotgun and I need an ambulance, too,” the caller said. “There is someone who has been shot. Hurry up! I need an ambulance. Right away. Fast. There’s someone with a shotgun. There’s someone down! There’s someone down!”
Syed was a loner and a “gamer” who spent hours holed up in his room, authorities said.
“He took one class at college and he did not work, so that gives him most of the day and evening, and most of the time in his free time he was playing video games,” Amormino said.
A 12-gauge shotgun used in the killings belonged to Syed and was purchased by his father about a year ago, he said.
The rampage began before dawn Tuesday at the home in Ladera Ranch, a wealthy Orange County suburb about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, and ended 25 miles to the north during the early morning rush hour.
Syed killed two more people during carjackings, injured at least three more, and shot up cars zooming down a busy freeway interchange before he ended it by putting the shotgun to his own head as police closed in.
The shooter forced one commuter out of his BMW, marched him to a curb and shot him three times from behind as shocked witnesses looked on, Tustin police Chief Scott Jordan said.
Syed had no criminal history and no history of mental illness or mental disability, said Lt. Paul Garaven, a Tustin police spokesman.
An autopsy will determine whether Syed had any drugs in his system, but Amormino said no illegal drugs were found in the house and there were no signs he was using illegal substances.
His parents did not recognize the woman who was shot to death in the Ladera Ranch home, he said.
Syed’s parents called police at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday after hearing the gunshots, but Syed had already sped off in their black SUV.
Officials released the 911 call Syed’s parents made as a dispatcher tried to elicit information from the shooter’s panicked, sobbing mother as a house alarm blared in the background.
“I think somebody was shot,” the mother said in her first comprehensible statement. “I heard a gunshot.”
The dispatcher then asked questions to sort out what happened including whether there was an intruder or if the mother had been shot.
“Yes, there is somebody in our house,” the mother said.
After several minutes, Syed’s father took the phone and said he believed his son may have gotten in a fight with a friend. The father said Syed left the home and took their car but he and his wife had not entered his son’s room to see what happened.
“We were asleep, we heard something, it sounded like a gunshot,” he said.
From Ladera Ranch, the gunman headed north and pulled off Interstate 5 in Tustin, about 20 miles away, with a flat tire, police said.
There he fired at and wounded a man in a car, then carjacked a vehicle from a man at a gas station and got back on the freeway, where he fired at commuters, authorities said.
The shooter then exited the freeway in nearby Santa Ana and carjacked a BMW, killing driver Melvin Lee Edwards, 69, of Laguna Hills.
Edwards served as a U.S. Army combat infantry officer in Vietnam and graduated from the University of Southern California, according to a biography on his company’s website. He and his wife, Cheryl, had celebrated their 42nd anniversary on Feb. 12 and have two adult children, his brother-in-law, Jeff Osborn, told the AP in a phone interview.
“He was an extremely remarkable person. I know it’s an old cliche, but he really did love life,” he said. “The world’s a lot smaller today for not having him here.”
One 911 caller told a dispatcher she watched through her rear-view mirror as a man later identified as Edwards got shot and another caller reports that he’s can see him lying near the off-ramp.
Syed took Edwards’ BMW and next popped up at a Tustin business, where he shot and killed construction worker Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton. Lewis’ co-worker rushed to intervene and was shot in the arm, Jordan said.
Syed took the second construction worker’s utility truck and fled to Orange.
He jumped from the moving truck at an intersection about five miles away as officers began to follow him and shot himself in the head.