Suspected 'Santa' Shooter Planned Escape to Canada

Police: Escape plan for suspected Christmas Eve gunman thwarted by burns.

December 27, 2008, 10:30 AM

Dec. 27, 2008 — -- The man suspected in the Christmas Eve massacre that left nine dead and a house in flames in Covina, Calif., intended to escape to Canada following the attack but settled on suicide after suffering severe burns in the fire, police said in a news conference Friday.

When he was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head in his brother's home, alleged gunman Bruce Pardo had $17,000 plastic-wrapped to his legs or in a girdle he was wearing, along with a plane ticket for an early morning flight to Canada.

He had suffered third degree burns on both arms, and pieces of the Santa suit he wore during the slaughter were melted to the skin on his legs.

"All indications were that he was going to commit this crime and flee the country. He didn't anticipate injuring himself," Covina Police Chief Kim Raney said.

Despite his injuries, Pardo intended to cause more destruction after the brutal attack and, after shedding his Santa suit during his escape, wired the suit with an explosive device, Raney said. That device was ignited when the bomb squad attempted to defuse it. No one was injured in the blast.

Police believe Pardo was distraught over the recent settlement of his divorce and was intentionally targeting members of his ex-wife's family in the attack.

Police have not released the identities of the victims recovered from the burned home pending further attempts at confirming their identities because they were, according to Ed Winter of the L.A. County Coroner's Office, "burned and charred to the point that they aren't recognizable."

At approximately 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 24, police believe Pardo, dressed as Santa Claus, rang the doorbell of his ex-in-law's home in Covina. When an 8-year-old girl answered the door, Pardo shot her in the face before opening fire on at least two dozen other partygoers.

In a 911 call released Friday, a frantic woman named Pardo as the shooter and said that after he appeared in the doorway in Santa Claus garb brandishing handguns, everyone was "panicking, running."

"His name is Bruce Pardo," she said between shallow, quick breaths. "He's still shooting out there."

Click here to hear the 911 call.

According to police, after at least two people were shot, Pardo unwrapped what seemed to be a large present he had brought in. Instead of a gift, the wrapping paper concealed a homemade fuel dispenser that Pardo used to spray racing fuel throughout the home.

When officers first arrived at the still-burning house, "they were met with a scene that was just indescribable," Raney said Wednesday.

Some partygoers ran out the back door while at least one woman ran upstairs and jumped off the roof to escape, reportedly breaking her ankle in the process. The 8-year-old girl survived the attack with severe injuries to the face.

Police are unsure whether Pardo ignited the fuel that caused the raging fire, but because of his injuries believe he did not intend for the fire to start while he was inside the house.

Witnesses reported Pardo took off the Santa costume and fled the scene, driving to his brother's home in Sylmar, Calif., where police believe he took his own life by shooting himself in the head.

Along with the plane ticket and $17,000 in cash that was found on him, investigators also found a key to a rental car that was parked a short distance from the house.

Hundreds of rounds of additional ammunition were found in the car. Detectives also noticed a suspicious device in the car connected to the discarded Santa suit and called in the bomb squad to defuse what police believed was a pipe bomb. After the bomb squad arrived, the bomb was ignited. No one was injured.

Pardo, who had no criminal record or history of violence, is believed to have been going through "marital problems," Covina police department spokesman Buchanan said. "It was not an amicable divorce," he said.

According to court documents, Sylvia Pardo filed to dissolve the two-year marriage in March, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple reached a settlement Dec. 18, a week before the shootings. Sylvia Pardo received the dog, some jewelry and $10,000 in the settlement agreement. Bruce Pardo got the couple's house.

In June, a court ordered Bruce Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support and put him on a payment plan of $450 a month for $3,570 that was unpaid, according to the Associated Press.

Pardo's attorney said the man had trouble making the payments after he lost his job in July, but spousal support was waived in the settlement signed earlier this month, the AP reported.

In a press conference Friday, police said they have indications that Pardo worked at a radar systems company before he was laid off.

The night of the attack, Pardo had been scheduled to serve as an usher for the midnight mass at the Holy Redeemer Church on Christmas.

The chief usher, Jan Detanna, told the Los Angeles Times, "This is shocking. ... He was the nicest guy you could imagine. Always a pleasure to talk to, always a big smile."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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