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Suspect in fatal dentist office shooting is a 'disgruntled' former patient, police say

One person died and two were wounded when gunfire erupted inside offices in El Cajon, California.
The man suspected in a deadly shooting at a dental office in El Cajon, Calif., has been taken into custody. One person was killed and two others were injured when the gunman opened fire on Thursday.
The man suspected in a deadly shooting at a dental office in El Cajon, Calif., has been taken into custody. One person was killed and two others were injured when the gunman opened fire on Thursday.NBC San Diego

The man who opened fire inside a dental office near San Diego was described as a "disgruntled" former patient who had legally armed himself two weeks ago, police said Friday.

Gunfire erupted at 4:14 p.m. Thursday inside the practice at 480 N. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon, and responding police officers found two men and a woman had been shot, officials said.

Licensed dentist Benjamin Ariel Harouni, 28, "sustained apparent gunshot injuries to the torso" and was pronounced dead at the scene, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said.

The alleged shooter, Mohammed Abdulkareem, a 29-year-old El Cajon resident, fled in a rented U-Haul pickup and was later captured, authorities said.

"Investigations also revealed that Abdulkareem was a former patient of the dental office," according to police. "While the exact motive behind the shooting remains under investigation, it is believed that Abdulkareem was a disgruntled former customer."

El Cajon police said Friday that while the investigation was in its early stages, “we want to make it clear that there is no indication the attack was racially or politically motivated.”

Eye witness accounts helped police quickly find the U-Haul rental agency and description of the getaway vehicle, which was spotted by a bystander a little more than 15 miles southwest of the crime scene in San Diego, officials said.

The truck was empty, and a "short time later, officers located Abdulkareem in the area and took him into custody without incident," El Cajon police said.

The suspect was "armed with a loaded handgun and several loaded handgun magazines" and records showed that the weapon "was legally purchased by" him two weeks ago, police said.

The Chabad of Downtown San Diego remembered Harouni as “a beautiful, kind, and caring young man, who had his entire life ahead of him.”

His parents moved to San Diego from Sacramento and built up a practice of dental offices, and Harouni had recently joined the family business, the Chabad of Downtown San Diego said.

Abdulkareem remained in custody Friday, booked on suspicion of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, jail records showed.

His arrangement was scheduled for Tuesday, and it wasn't immediately clear Friday if he had hired or been assigned a defense lawyer.

Anwer Abdulkareem, the suspect’s brother, said the alleged shooter had been exhibiting concerning behavior in recent months and that the family couldn’t convince him to seek treatment.

“He needed help,” the brother told NBC News on Friday night. “He had fear, he had paranoia. He was thinking everyone was after him, there’s a gang, there’s a cartel. He was seeing stuff that was not happening.”