SEAL BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Every hair-dressing station was full at Salon Meritage when a gunman burst through the door and began shooting, sending terrified customers diving for cover. The shooter then stepped outside, shot a man sitting in a truck in the parking lot and sped off.
By the time it was all over Wednesday, eight people were dead and another one in critical condition in Seal Beach, a resort town so calm the police spokesman couldn't even recall the last homicide.
"There was like a 'pop pop' ... and my receptionist screamed out, 'He just shot that man' and we all went into the bathroom and called 911," said Kimberly Criswell, who owns a salon two doors away and knew many hairstylists at Salon Meritage. "I'm sure I've lost some friends today."
Police arrested 42-year-old Scott Dekraai about a half-mile from the scene but did not release a motive or any other details.
In all, one man and five women died at the salon, one man and one woman died after being sent to a nearby hospital, and one woman remained in critical condition. Their names have not been released.
Friends of the salon owner and other employees said Dekraai was the ex-husband of a stylist who worked there. One of the licensed cosmetologists at the salon was listed as Michelle Dekraai.
One witness, Glenn Zachman, said police placed plastic bags over the man's hands to preserve possible gunshot residue.
The man was cooperative when officers, working from a description of the shooter, stopped him near the salon, Bowles said.
Kari Salveson of Los Alamitos, who attended a service for the victims at SeaCoast Grace Church in Seal Beach, said she had known Michelle Dekraai for more than 10 years and was aware that she and her ex-husband were involved in a bitter custody dispute over their son, who is about 7 or 8 years old.
She said Michelle Dekraai made her every visit to the salon special.
"She could gab away. She was one of those girlfriends you could never get enough of. She made you smile and she made you laugh," Salveson said.
In Huntington Beach, people were shocked to learn that one of the friendliest men in the neighborhood had been arrested for the shootings.
Dekraai's neighbors described him as an outgoing man who invited them over for pool parties at the house he'd lived in for about six years. They said he doted on his son, playing catch with the boy in his yard.
Neighbors said they were aware Dekraai was in a custody battle with his ex-wife.
"It was a very difficult battle and he was trying to get more time" with his son, said Jo Cornhall, who lives across the street.
Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, last saw Dekraai on Tuesday morning as she was leaving for work. She was shocked when she saw the photo of the stocky man with thinning hair being detained by Seal Beach police.
"I'm like, no, not this neighbor, no way, he's the nicest guy ever," Malchow said.
Dekraai married his current wife two or three years ago in his backyard, said Malchow, who attended the wedding.
"He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son," she said.
Dekraai walked with a limp after a tug boat accident that killed a fellow tug boat operator about two miles off the coast in 2007. Cornhall said he uses a brace for his leg.
Police were still trying to determine the sequence of events inside the shop. They wouldn't say what type of weapon was used or if the gunman used more than one.
"We're unsure at this point if he shot from the entrance and people, as they were shot, ran in seeking cover or seeking shelter, but we have fatalities throughout the salon," Bowles told reporters.
Seal Beach has seen just one other homicide in the past four years, and Bowles said Wednesday's killings were the greatest tragedy to ever strike the seaside town.
The downtown is dotted with salons, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques clustered just blocks from a beach and pier popular with teenagers and young families. Many residents live and work within walking distance of the ocean.
"It's like Mayberry in the middle of Los Angeles," said Doyle Surratt, lead pastor of SeaCoast Grace Church. "We're small and all the kids go to school together."
Associated Press writers John Rogers and Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach contributed to this report.
- Salon Meritage