'Horrific massacre': Suspect locked entries, knew victims in deadly shooting at California office building, police say

Christal Hayes, Ryan W. Miller and Jordan Culver, USA TODAY
·6 min read

A targeted attack that left four dead, including a 9-year-old boy, at a Southern California office building marked the third time in less than three weeks the country has been rocked by a mass shooting.

Police say the suspect in the Wednesday evening massacre knew his victims and locked gated entryways into the office suite in Orange, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, before opening fire. Victims were found in various areas of the building, including the boy, who was found dead in the arms of a woman believed to be his mother, officials said.

The massacre is the latest in a string of mass shootings across the country after a lull in such high-profile attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The four victims were killed just a week after a gunman in Boulder, Colorado, killed 10 people at a supermarket. The week before that, a gunman in the Atlanta area killed eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three spas.

The Orange Police Department started getting calls about a shooting around 5:30 p.m. local time. Officers were at the scene within two minutes but found that both entrances to a gated courtyard entryway had been locked with a bicycle cable lock, Lt. Jen Amat said at a news conference Thursday.

The locks prevented officers from quickly entering the building while they continued to hear gunshots, Amat said. From outside the gate, officers opened fire at the suspect. She said bolt cutters, which were brought by sergeant who responded minutes later, were used to break through the locks.

Police scoured the building and the courtyard, where they found the suspect had been shot. He was in critical but stable condition at a local hospital as of Thursday afternoon

It was unclear whether the suspect's gunshot wounds were self-inflicted or from police, Amat said.

Police identified the suspect as Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44. He knew each of the victims, Amat said, adding the boy who died in the attack was the son of one of the victims.

"It appears all of the adults were connected either by business or a personal relationships," Amat said. "This was not a random act of violence."

This undated photo provided by the Orange Police Department shows Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, a 44-year-old Fullerton, Calif., who is the suspect in a shooting that occurred inside a business in Orange, Calif., on March 31, 2021.
This undated photo provided by the Orange Police Department shows Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, a 44-year-old Fullerton, Calif., who is the suspect in a shooting that occurred inside a business in Orange, Calif., on March 31, 2021.

Four people – a man, two women and the boy – were found dead. Another woman believed to be the boy's mother was in the hospital in critical condition, police said.

Amat said the suspect made his way through the building, killing a woman in an outdoor landing upstairs, a man in an office building and another woman in a separate office building, all owned as a suite by Unified Homes, a mobile-home broker. Amat displayed a photo showing the suspect inside the business during a news conference Thursday afternoon, explaining police have video footage they are not releasing of him inside Unified Homes.

“It appears that a little boy died in his mother's arms as she was trying to save him during this horrific massacre,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Thursday. “I'm here to tell you that we're going to do everything in our power in the Orange County District Attorney's office to get justice for these families."

Spitzer said his office was still investigating the circumstances of the shooting and determining what charges would be filed. But he said he would consider seeking the death penalty.

Amat said one firearm was recovered from the scene, a semi-automatic handgun. Police did not reveal when the gun was purchased or whether the suspect had obtained it legally.

Along with the gun, Amat said, a backpack was found that contained pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition.

Police also did not say whether Gonzalez was known by law enforcement or what the relationships were with the victims.

He was living in a motel in Anaheim, northwest of Orange, and used a rental car to get to Unified Homes, Amat said.

Police officers stand outside an office building where four people, including a child, were killed in a shooting on March 31, 2021 in Orange, California.
Police officers stand outside an office building where four people, including a child, were killed in a shooting on March 31, 2021 in Orange, California.

Police have not identified the victims and still need to notify families and loved ones before their names are made public.

Paul Tovar told KTLA-TV after the shooting that his brother owns Unified Homes, the mobile-home broker that was later revealed to be the scene of the shooting.

"He’s not answering his phone. Neither’s my niece," Tovar said. "I’m pretty scared and worried."

Tim Smith’s home is separated from the office’s parking lot by a backyard wooden fence. He was in the back of his house when he heard a volley of three gunshots, then a volley of three and a final volley of four.

“The first words I heard after the shots were fired were ‘Don’t move or I will shoot you,’” Smith, 64, said Thursday morning.

Smith said he heard that repeated twice more by a man’s voice and believes it was a police officer speaking. He did not hear other voices or more shots. He later peeked over the fence and saw SWAT officers marching in a line in the building’s courtyard.

“It saddens me so much,” he said. “A senseless loss of life.”

Cody Lev, who lives across the street from the office building, told the Orange County Register he heard three loud pops that were spaced out, then three more. There was silence, then he heard numerous shots, followed by sirens and more shots.

Uvaldo Madrigal told the Los Angeles Times he was next door at his auto shop when the shots began.

“They sounded very low, so I didn’t think they were gunshots,” he told the newspaper.

He said he then heard about 10 shots and saw police officers with their guns drawn and police cars in the middle of the street. Police later told him and his employees to leave the area. He saw two people being taken to ambulances on stretchers. “I don’t know what condition they were in,” he told the Times. “Nothing like this has ever happened around here.”

Rep. Katie Porter, whose district includes Orange, said she was "deeply saddened" by the shooting.

"I’m continuing to keep victims and their loved ones in my thoughts as we continue to learn more. My team and I will continue to monitor the situation closely," she tweeted Wednesday evening.

People are pictured comforting each other as they stand near a business building where a shooting occurred in Orange, California. Authorities say 4 people, including a child, died during the shooting late Wednesday.
People are pictured comforting each other as they stand near a business building where a shooting occurred in Orange, California. Authorities say 4 people, including a child, died during the shooting late Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the shooting "horrifying and heartbreaking."

"Our hearts are with the families impacted by this terrible tragedy tonight," he tweeted.

Amat said there hadn't been an "incident like this in the city of Orange since 1997," referencing when a gunman armed with an assault rifle attacked a California Department of Transportation maintenance yard. The suspect, an equipment operator who had been fired six weeks earlier, killed four people and wounded others, including a police officer, before police killed him.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California shooting: Suspect knew victims in attack that killed 4