Prosecutor recounts killing spree at California salon
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – Prosecutors didn’t take long to decide that the man they say went on a deadly shooting rampage at a Southern California salon deserves to die.
First, they said, Scott Dekraai wrapped himself in body armor and armed himself with three handguns. Then, he burst into the salon where his ex-wife worked – their 8-year-old son waiting at his elementary school for one of them to pick him up.
Over two minutes, Dekraai moved methodically through the salon, killing his ex-wife and seven others as he shot his victims in the head and chest. Prosecutors said he wanted revenge against his ex-wife with whom he fought over the custody of their son.
“That little boy’s a victim,” said prosecutor Tony Rackackaus, pausing to compose himself at a news conference on Friday. “Now his mother has been murdered, and he has to grow up knowing that his dad is a mass-murderer. So what kind of sick, twisted fatherly love might that be?”
Dekraai appeared briefly in court Friday afternoon, where angry friends and relatives of the victims screamed insults. One person shouted, “I hate you.”
Superior Court Judge Erick L. Larsh ordered a medical review after Dekraai’s attorney said he wasn’t getting his needed medications while being held in jail without bail. Attorney Robert Curtis said he would likely request that the trial be moved out of the area.
Prosecutors often spend time weighing mitigating and extenuating circumstances before deciding to seek the death penalty. Rackackaus said he reached his decision in less than 48 hours because there was no reason to look for such factors in this case.
“There are some cases that are so depraved, so callous and so malignant that there is only one punishment that might have any chance of fitting the crime,” said Rackackaus, the Orange County district attorney.
The crime, the worst in Seal Beach’s 96-year history, has shaken the tight-knit seaside city of 24,000 that many residents call Mayberry by the Sea. Until this week, it had only one homicide in four years. The crime reported most often last year was larceny.
“The reason for this rampage? Revenge,” Rackackaus said. Dekraai “committed this unimaginable act of violence because he wanted to kill his ex-wife.”
After a final phone conversation with his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, on Wednesday morning, authorities say, Dekraai drove to Salon Meritage in downtown Seal Beach, where he knew she would be working.
During a two-minute span, authorities say, he gunned down eight people in the salon and another outside in the parking lot. One person survived and is hospitalized in critical condition. The wounded person, 73-year-old Harriet Stretz, was having her hair done by her daughter, Laura Lee Elody, who was killed.
As people ran out of the building screaming or hid in adjacent rooms or simply lay on the floor attempting to play dead, the onslaught continued, with Dekraai only stopping to reload. When he was done, the gunman walked out of the salon and, encountering a man in a parked car, shot him to death and drove away.
“He was willing to end any life in his path, and he did,” Rackackaus said.
Police pulled over Dekraai a short distance away, and he surrendered without resisting. Rackackaus called the killings cruel, merciless and methodical, adding they had nothing to do with love for Dekraai’s son, who friends said the 41-year-old former tugboat operator doted on.
Dekraai and Fournier split up in 2006 and divorced the following year. The two had been involved in an increasingly acrimonious custody fight over their son ever since Dekraai had asked a judge for “final decision making authority” when it came to matters involving their son’s education and his medical and psychological treatment.
Both parents were in court the day before the shootings for a custody hearing that was continued until December.
However, Fournier’s boyfriend, Michael Warzybok, said a recent evaluation by a court-appointed psychologist appeared to side with Fournier, saying the couple’s custody agreement should remain the way it was.
Under terms they had reached at the conclusion of their divorce, Dekraai and Fournier each had custody of the boy roughly 50 percent of the time.
Throughout the custody battle, Dekraai and Fournier traded serious allegations, each calling the other an unfit parent.
Dekraai said in court papers that Fournier had a drinking problem, once showed up drunk at their son’s Little League game and didn’t keep a close watch on the boy.
Fournier responded in court papers that Dekraai was mentally unstable, had been violent and abusive to her when they were married and had once called 911 and threatened to kill himself and others.
Dekraai’s stepfather, Leroy Hinmon, had gotten a temporary restraining order against him in 2007 after he said Dekraai attacked him. The order required Dekraai to surrender his guns, but it had long since expired.
Shortly after their separation, Dekraai was badly injured in a tugboat accident as he tried to save a co-worker who was crushed to death when a towline snapped.
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective who investigated the accident called his actions “heroic.” “He saw her pinned by her towline, and he immediately went to her side to try to assist her,” Detective Robert Harris said at the time.
His leg badly mangled, Dekraai was unable to work, and friends and acquaintances have said he was in constant pain since then. He told the court he lived off an insurance settlement and his retirement benefits.