The Covina massacre occurred on December 24, 2008, in Covina, a city in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, United States. Nine people were killed, either by gunshot wounds or in an arson fire inside a house at 1129 East Knollcrest Drive, where a Christmas Eve party was being held. The perpetrator, 45-year-old Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, who had entered the house wearing a Santa suit, died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his brother's residence in the early hours of the morning after the attack. Authorities cited marital problems as a possible motive for the violence; reports indicated that Pardo's divorce had been finalized on December 18, one week before the massacre. Three people, including Pardo's ex-wife and his former in-laws, were initially declared missing pending identification of their bodies.
Bruce Jeffrey Pardo
|Location||Covina, California, United States|
|Date||December 24, 2008 |
c. 11:30 p.m. (UTC-8)
|Target||Ex-wife and her family|
|Mass murder, murder-suicide, torching|
|Deaths||10 (including the perpetrator)|
|Injured||3 (2 from gunfire)|
|Perpetrator||Bruce Jeffrey Pardo|
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At approximately 11:30 p.m. PST, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, dressed in a Santa Claus suit, knocked on the door of his former in-laws' house, occupied by about 25 people, with a gift-wrapped package containing a homemade flamethrower on a trolley and two 9mm semi-automatic handguns; he also had two additional 9mm semi-automatic handguns in his possession. Moments after the door opened, Pardo pulled out the two handguns and immediately shot his 8-year-old niece Katrina Yuzefpolsky, the daughter of Leticia Yuzefpolsky, a sister of Sylvia Pardo, as she ran to greet him, injuring her in the face. He then fired indiscriminately at fleeing party-goers. Police speculate that Pardo may have stood over and pointedly executed some of the victims, using the other handguns.
After the shootings, Pardo unwrapped the package containing the homemade flamethrower, and used it to spray racing fuel gasoline to set the home ablaze. Nine people died from either gunfire or flames, and three others were wounded: Yuzefpolsky was shot in the face with severe but non-life-threatening injuries, a 16-year-old girl shot and wounded in the back, and a 20-year-old woman who suffered a broken ankle jumping out of the second-floor window. There was one survivor who called the authorities during the attack, after escaping to a neighbor's house. The resulting fire soared approximately 40 to 50 feet and took 80 firefighters an hour-and-a-half to extinguish. Due to the intensity of the fire, identification of the victims was done with dental and medical records.
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Suspect's death and aftermathEdit
After the attack, Pardo put on his street clothes and drove his Dodge Caliber rental car to his brother's house in Sylmar about 30 miles away from the crime scene, where he was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His brother was not present in the home at the time of Pardo's death. It was initially believed that Pardo intended to flee to Canada by plane since he had bought an airline ticket to a flight on Air Canada. However, it was subsequently discovered that the flight itinerary, on Northwest Airlines, was from Los Angeles to Moline, Illinois (with a layover in Minnesota). Pardo had called days before to tell a high school friend that he was planning to visit but investigators were unsure if he actually intended to visit or if the flight was to fool investigators. He had visited the friend before in October 2008. Other reports stated that the Santa suit had melted during the flamethrower portion of the attack and had adhered to his skin so not all of it could be removed.
However, suffering from severe third-degree burns on his arms stemming from the blaze, Pardo decided to go against the initial plan. Police found $17,000 in cash cling-wrapped on his legs inside a girdle. His rental car, parked one block from his brother's house, had been rigged with remnants of his Santa suit that would detonate the car with black powder if removed. Also recovered from the scene were four 13-round capacity handguns that were empty, and at least 200 rounds of ammunition. Suggesting that what had been inside the car was being treated as a threat, a bomb squad fired an incendiary device into it, burning and destroying it. At Pardo's house in Montrose, police had recovered five empty boxes for semiautomatic handguns, a Benelli M2 Tactical shotgun and a container for high-octane fuel tank gasoline. They also found what was described as a "virtual bomb factory" in his home.
Pardo lived in the San Fernando Valley and was a graduate of John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, Los Angeles, and California State University, Northridge. He worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. He met Sylvia Pardo, previously Sylvia Orza, in 2004.
At least three victims' deaths were caused by gunshot wounds alone, while four others died from a combination of both gunshot wounds and fire. Two other deaths stemmed from the fire alone. At least thirteen children were orphaned after the massacre, and two others lost one parent. The victims include:
|Name||Age||Relationship||Cause of death|
|Sylvia Ortega Pardo||43||Ex-wife||Gunshot wound|
|Alicia Sotomayor Ortega||70||Mother-in-law||Gunshot wound to the abdomen|
|Joseph S. Ortega||80||Father-in-law||Multiple gunshot wounds|
|Cheri Lynn Ortega||45||Sister-in-law|
|Alicia Ortega Ortiz||46||Sister-in-law|
|Michael Andre Ortiz||17||Nephew||Died in the fire|
Police speculate that the motive of the attack was related to marital problems. Pardo's wife of one year had settled for divorce in the prior week. However, Pardo held no criminal record and had no history of violence. He had been fired from his job as an electrical engineer at ITT Electronic Systems, Radar Systems in July. There is some speculation that the divorce may have been caused by Pardo concealing a child from a previous relationship. This child was severely injured in a swimming pool accident several years prior. He did not support his child, nor did he pay any support to his ex-wife and her children.
The couple wed in January 2006, but soon grew apart after their marriage, when Pardo refused to open a joint account with Sylvia; he also expected his wife to take care of her own three children with her own finances.
In June 2008, divorce court had ordered Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support. During the divorce proceeding, Pardo had confided to a friend his wife was "taking him to the cleaners." In July, Pardo was fired for billing false hours and the court suspended the support payments due to job hardship.
Pardo was required to pay Sylvia $10,000 as part of the divorce settlement, according to court documents. Sylvia kept the wedding ring and the family dog. In a court declaration, Pardo complained that Sylvia was living with her parents, not paying rent, and had spent lavishly on a luxury car, gambling trips to Las Vegas, meals at fine restaurants, massages, and golf lessons.
- Poly Styrene, the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, recorded a song in 2010 called "Black Christmas", which contains references to the massacre.
- Silent Night was partially based on the massacre. In the film, a character tells the story of a man who donned a Santa suit, and used a homemade flamethrower to attack a Christmas party being attended by his ex-wife.
- Frank Girardot's Crime Scene blog
- Moore, Solomon; O'Connor, Anahad (December 26, 2008). "9th Body Found in California Attack". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
- "Santa gunman was in bitter divorce, lost job". Associated Press. December 26, 2008.
- "6 killed, at least 23 hurt in Christmas weekend shootings". Chicago Tribune. December 28, 2008.
- "Santa" Gunman Planned to Escape to Canada, Police Say, NBC (December 26, 2008)
- Abdollah, Tami; Bloomekatz, Ari B.; Becerra, Hector (December 26, 2008). "Covina gunman planned to flee the country, police say". Los Angeles Times.
- "Cops: Suspect in Santa massacre had planned to flee". CNN. December 26, 2008. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
- "Suspected Santa gunman takes life; 8 others dead". CNN. December 26, 2008. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
- "'Santa' Gunman Intended to Flee to Canada, Killed Self After Suffering Burns". FoxNews. December 26, 2008.
- Covina, California (December 28, 2008). "Emergency call reveals terror of 'Santa' gunman's rampage". Melbourne: The Age.
- Abdollah, Tami (July 11, 2009). "Inside the mind of a killer 'Santa'". Los Angeles Times.
- "Coroner: 2 Christmas Eve Massacre Victims Died in Fire, Not Shooting". KTLA. January 2, 2008.
- "Concern grows for young survivors of Covina shooting victims". Los Angeles Times. December 29, 2008.
- "Coroner IDs last 2 Covina massacre victims"
- "Coroner IDs 6 killed in massacre: Three still unidentified after attack on Christmas Eve". Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
- [dead link]
- Covina's 'Santa Claus' gunman
- Hoag, Christina (December 26, 2008). "Bruce Jeffrey Pardo: 'Santa' Shooter Planned To Flee To Canada". Huffington Post.
- Covina Holiday Murders – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
- Inside the mind of a killer 'Santa' – Los Angeles Times