Image: Charlie Voelker, center, prays during a vigil
Jae C. Hong  /  AP
Charlie Voelker, center, prays during a vigil in the parking lot in front of Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, Calif., Thursday night. About 300 people gathered for the prayer service to honor the memory of eight Seal Beach residents gunned down in a shooting rampage on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/14/2011 12:12:28 AM ET 2011-10-14T04:12:28

About 300 people gathered for the prayer service and vigil Thursday night to honor the memory of eight Seal Beach residents gunned down in a shooting rampage.

The suspected gunman in the shooting at a Southern California hair salon was involved in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, an employee at the salon, court records show.

Six women and two men died in the attack at Salon Meritage on Wednesday. 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.

Police arrested 41-year-old Scott Dekraai about a half-mile from the scene. He did not struggle, police said. The gunman wore body armor and had several guns, police and witnesses said.

Police released the identities of the victims Thursday afternoon, The Orange County Register reported: Michelle Fournier Dekraai, the suspect's ex-wife; Randy Fannin, the salon owner; Victoria Buzzo, Laura Webb, Christy Wilson, Laura Elody and Michelle Fast, killed inside the salon; and Dave Caouette, killed outside the salon.

Hattie Strez, Webb's mother, was wounded in the attack. She remained in critical condition but was showing signs of improvement, Sgt. Steve Bowles said Thursday.

Seal Beach Police Capt. Tim Olson said the shooting was not random, and that Dekraai "knew his intended victim," the Register reported. Olson said Dekraai used a handgun.

Court records and acquaintances said Dekraai and his ex-wife, who worked at the salon as a licensed cosmetologist, had been locked in a bitter custody battle over their son since he filed for divorce in 2007.

Michelle Fournier Dekraai took out a restraining order against her ex-husband, one of her neighbors told KTLA TV. Wilson, another salon employee, testified on her behalf, the TV station reported.

Video: Beauty salon massacre victims remembered (on this page)

Shortly after he was arrested, police arrived at a house on Melody Lane in nearby Huntington Beach and escorted two women to a white car and then roped off the house with crime scene tape. The house is registered to Scott Dekraai.

History of problems
Lydia Sosa, a hairstylist who left two years ago to work at a new business with a friend, said the gunman's ex-wife spoke often of her relationship problems.

"They had been having bitter problems for years and I guess he just went in there and started shooting," Sosa said.

In a May court filing, Michelle Fournier Dekraai claimed that Scott Dekraai was unstable and physically abusive to her during their marriage. She said he was "almost manic" and asked the court to decline his request for more time with the boy.

She wrote that giving Scott Dekraai more custody of their child would be lead to "a situation where the inmates are running the asylum."

She also wrote that her ex-husband had been physically abusive to her during their marriage, and that in 2008 he beat his stepfather, pleaded guilty to assault and battery and underwent a year of anger management.

A temporary restraining order obtained by Scott Dekraai's stepfather in 2007 said that Dekraai attacked him that year, leaving him with cuts and bruises on his face and right arm. It said Dekraai's son witnessed the attack.

Michelle Dekraai also alleged that her ex-husband called emergency services at least once and "advised that he was going to kill himself or someone else." She wrote that he "is a diagnosed bipolar individual who has problems with his own medication and his reaction to same, and he certainly shouldn't be allowed to have unilateral and unfettered control of any and all medical and psychological aspects of our son's life."

In his own court filing, Scott Dekraai alleged that his ex-wife had a drinking problem, saying she was talking loudly and slurring words at their son's baseball game earlier this year and that her breath smelled of alcohol when he picked up his son from her house one time last year.

Earlier court records showed that the suspected gunman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a 2007 tugboat accident, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Dekraai suffered a serious leg injury while attempting to save a co-worker who died in the accident, the Long Beach Press Telegram reported.

The PTSD diagnosis was made by his doctor in court documents contained in Dekraai's divorce and custody proceedings in 2008, the Los Angeles Times report said. The document also stated that repeated phone calls from Michelle Fournier Dekraai were "extremely stressful" and not healthy" for Dekraai. The court limited contact between the couple to only one phone call per week, the Times reported.

Worst shooting in Orange County history
It was the worst mass shooting in Orange County history since July 12, 1976, when custodian Edward Allaway killed seven people and wounded two others at California State University, Fullerton. Allaway was convicted of murder but later found to be insane.

The crime scene tape around the salon was gone early Thursday, with blinds on the side windows drawn and black plastic bags taped over the front windows and door.

A memorial to the victims early Thursday started with two candles, some pink Hybiscus blooms and a handwritten poem called "The Day After."

Written on line notebook paper and signed only Laurie, it was "dedicated to all who lost and a most precious Seal Beach that didn't deserve this carnage."

Mary Stearns of Huntington Beach came by to show her respects and leave a red candle. She knew Fannin, the salon owner, for more than 30 years, following him to three different salons over the years to get her hair done every eight weeks.

"I was going to have him over for Christmas. I just saw him on Saturday. I had a bottle of wine I brought back from Australia. He loved wine," she said.

A woman who gave her name only as Cindy told the Orange County Register that she was in the salon, having her hair colored, when the gunman came in, went up to a woman stylist and fired.

At first, the customer said she thought it was a Halloween prank.

Then the man shot a woman who was having her hair shampooed, and then shot the salon owner, who was coloring Cindy's hair, she said.

"I just kept hearing boom, boom, boom, boom," she said. "I ran out. I didn't see his face. I just saw the gun in his hand and him shoot (everybody)."

Cindy said she ran next door to another business, where she went into the bathroom, closed the door and turned out the light.

"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."

As police cordoned off the crime scene Wednesday, a friend of the victims stood crying and screaming, "I knew he was going to do this, I knew he had a gun, I told you," the Long Beach Press Telegram reported.

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.

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.

Neighbors shocked
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 over their son, who neighbors said is 7 or 8 years old.

"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 from Dekraai.

Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, said 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. The Orange County Register identified the current wife as Dekraai's former nurse.

"He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son," she said.

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 and many businesses cater to Leisure World, a gated retirement community a few miles away that is home to 9,000 people.

"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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Beauty salon massacre victims remembered

  1. Transcript of: Beauty salon massacre victims remembered

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Now to California and that deadly shooting rampage at a beauty salon . We're learning more this morning about this alleged gunman and his victims. NBC 's Kristen Dahlgren is in Seal Beach again this morning with more. Kristen , good morning.

    KRISTEN DAHLGREN reporting: Good morning, Ann. Forty-one -year-old Scott Dekraai is expected to be charged in the massacre later today, but here the focus really remains on the nine people who were shot and the hundreds who've been coming here to share in their incredible loss. At the site of the massacre, residents of the small town held onto each other Thursday night, but couldn't hold back their tears.

    Unidentified Man #1: This tragedy will not define this city.

    DAHLGREN: Police say 41-year-old Scott Dekraai in full body armor and carrying three weapons opened fire in the crowded salon, killing eight victims, but taking much more.

    Unidentified Woman #1: They're not a number because I -- everybody's special to me. They were wonderful, wonderful people.

    DAHLGREN: Like 64-year-old Dave Caouette , who was simply sitting in his car when he was shot as the gunman fled, and Randy Fannin , who owned the salon with his wife Sandy , who escaped alive.

    Unidentified Woman #2: She lost her soul mate, her partner, her everyday companion. And she lost her business partner and she lost her employees and her work family. And it's -- she's devastated. Her dreams are crushed. You know, they were ready to retire and she's alone.

    DAHLGREN: Several salon employees were among those killed: Christy Wilson , a new grandmother with a spunky streak, and Victoria Buzzo whose car still sits in the parking lot.

    Unidentified Woman #3: She was the life of the party . She just inside and out was genuinely an amazing person.

    DAHLGREN: Victim Michelle Fournier was a stylist here, but also a mother and the ex-wife of the suspect. Police say she was his intended target.

    Woman #1: He had threatened to do this a long time ago.

    DAHLGREN: Those who knew Fournier said she and Dekraai were in a custody dispute over their eight-year-old son and had been in court just this week.

    Mr. JOHN CATE: She was frightful of him from the outset.

    DAHLGREN: John Cate was Fournier 's attorney. He claims a custody evaluation, called a 730 report, revealed Scott Dekraai suffered from mental illness.

    Mr. CATE: Yeah, the 730 confirmed that he had been diagnosed previously with -- as bipolar, and he was on medication for that as well.

    DAHLGREN: But neighbors of Dekraai 's can't believe the suspect could be the man they knew, who went to high school in nearby Long Beach and always went out of his way to help.

    Unidentified Man #2: He was always a nice guy. This is just so out of the blue . It's a shock.

    DAHLGREN: An emotion felt by so many now.

    Unidentified Woman #4: I have friends that are gone and there's no sense of why they're not here and why we are.

    DAHLGREN: A community trying to cope with the senseless, coming together to find whatever comfort they can. Now again, Dekraai is expected court later today. He hasn't entered a plea yet. We did reach out to his attorney but didn't receive a response. Meantime, the surviving shooting victim, 73-year-old Hattie Stretz , is improving, Ann , but even after her physical recovery she has a long emotional road ahead. Her daughter Laura was doing her hair here. She was among those that was killed.

    CURRY: Oh. Kristen Dahlgren , what a tragedy. Thank you so much . It is now 7:16. Once again, here's Matt.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments