updated 6/14/2010 9:36:06 PM ET 2010-06-15T01:36:06

A wounded 3-year-old boy was found hiding outside his family's Southern California home, and his 5-year-old brother was found unhurt inside, 12 hours after their parents died in an apparent murder-suicide, police said Monday.

The shootings happened late Sunday but weren't discovered until midmorning Monday, when a co-worker stopped by to see why the father hadn't reported to work, Anaheim Police Sgt. Tim Schmidt said.

The co-worker instructed the 5-year-old to call 911.

"He said his dad killed his mom and shot himself and he can't find his brother," Schmidt said.

'This is a horrific scene'
When police arrived, they found the parents' bodies splayed out on lawn chairs in the backyard. From there, they followed a trail of blood leading to the wounded 3-year-old, who was hiding behind trash cans on the side of the house, Schmidt said.

"This is a horrific scene," he said.

The 3-year-old boy had been shot three times in the shoulder, stomach and chest. He was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and was in critical condition, Schmidt said. Hospital spokesman John Murray cited confidentiality laws in declining to provide further details on the boy.

Police responded to reports that gunshots were heard in the area Sunday night, but they could not find the origin.

The 5-year-old boy, who wasn't injured, has been placed in protective custody, Schmidt said.

During a "traumatic and emotionally draining interview," the 5-year-old told investigators his father tried to shoot him and he ran inside the house to hide, Schmidt said.

"He said he could hear his brother screaming and hollering," Schmidt said.

Police on Monday blocked off the street leading to the family's single-story house, which is in a residential neighborhood behind a strip mall. A black tarp covered the view of the open garage; a minivan was parked in the driveway.

'He was a very decent man'
A neighbor who lives two doors down said her husband worked with the suspected gunman at an auto body shop in Buena Park, an Orange County suburb northwest of Anaheim.

"He was a very decent man," Alisha Maldonado, 36, said of the father. "We're very surprised by what happened."

Family friend Filomeno Adarna told KABC-TV the couple was having financial problems.

Adarna said the couple applied for a loan modification eight months ago and it was denied.

"They lost a little bit of money, were having some personal financial problems," Adarna said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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