TUSTIN, Calif. » A woman who was the first of three people killed in a gunman’s rampage has been identified, but her relationship to the shooter — a videogame-playing loner — remained unknown today, authorities said.
Courtney Aoki, 20, of Buena Park was shot multiple times early Tuesday in the home that gunman Ali Syed, 20, shared with his parents, said Orange County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.
But beyond that, authorities know little about her, including how she got there, her occupation, and how she knew Syed, Amormino said.
Syed, a part-time community college student who ultimately committed suicide, was a loner and a “gamer,” Amormino said.
“He spent a lot of time alone in his room playing video games,” he said.
A 12-gauge shotgun used in the killings belonged to Syed and was purchased by his father, he said.
The rampage began before dawn Tuesday at the home in Ladera Ranch and ended 25 miles to the north during the early morning rush hour, police said.
Syed killed two more people during carjackings, injured at least three more, and shot up cars zooming down a busy freeway interchange before committing suicide with his shotgun as police closed in, authorities said.
The shooter forced one commuter stopped at a stop sign out of his BMW, marched him to a curb and shot him three times from behind as shocked witnesses looked on, Tustin police Chief Scott Jordan said.
The motive for the shootings remained unclear.
Syed had no criminal history and no history of mental illness or mental disability, said Lt. Paul Garaven, a Tustin police spokesman.
An autopsy will determine whether Syed had any drugs in his system, but Amormino said no illegal drugs were found in the house and there were no signs he was using illegal substances.
His parents did not recognize the woman who was shot to death in the Ladera Ranch home they shared with their son, he said.
Syed’s parents rushed outside and called police at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday after hearing the gunshots, but Syed had already sped off in his parents’ black SUV.
From Ladera Ranch, the gunman headed north and pulled off Interstate 5 in Tustin, about 20 miles away, with a flat tire, police said.
A man who was waiting in a shopping center parking lot to carpool with his son saw Syed had a gun and tried to escape in his Cadillac, Jordan said. Syed ran after the car as it drove away and fired his shotgun through the back window, striking the driver in head but not killing him.
The driver “noticed that he was loading his shotgun, so he simply gets back in his car and tries to escape,” Jordan said. “He’s driving through the parking lot trying to get away and the suspect is actually chasing him on foot, taking shots at him.”
Syed then crossed the street to a Mobil gas station, where he approached the driver of a pickup who was filling his tank and asked for his keys, Jordan said.
“He says something to the effect of, ‘I’ve killed somebody. Today’s my last day. I don’t want to hurt you. Give me your keys,'” the police chief said. “He hands over the keys and he gets in the truck and leaves.”
Syed got back on the freeway, where he pulled to the side of the road at the busy I-5 and State Route 55 interchange and began firing at commuters, Jordan said.
One driver was struck in the mouth and hand, possibly by glass shards. He didn’t have a cellphone, but was able to drive home and call police. Two other cars were hit but their drivers weren’t injured, Jordan said.
“All of this is happening so quickly,” he said, estimating that Syed shot at drivers from the side of the freeway transition for about a minute.
The shooter then exited the freeway in nearby Santa Ana but ran the curb and got his car stuck, authorities said.
He approached Melvin Lee Edwards of Laguna Hills, who was on his way to a gear manufacturing business in Santa Ana that he started with his father and brothers nearly 40 years ago.
Syed shot Edwards three times, including in the back of the head and the back, Jordan said.
Onlookers “tried to get away. They saw what was going on, they tried to get away and they called police,” he said.
The 69-year-old Edwards served as a U.S. Army combat infantry officer in Vietnam and graduated from the University of Southern California, according to a brief biography on the company’s website.
He and his wife, Cheryl, had celebrated their 42nd anniversary on Feb. 12 and have two adult children, his brother-in-law, Jeff Osborn, told the AP in a phone interview. Edwards was an avid fly fisherman who took vacations to pursue his passion and treated his employees like family members, Osborn said.
“He was extremely remarkable person. I know it’s an old cliche, but he really did love life,” he said. “The world’s a lot smaller today for not having him here.”
Syed took Edwards’ BMW and next popped up at the Micro Center, a Tustin business, where he shot and killed construction worker Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton. Lewis’ co-worker rushed to intervene and was shot in the arm, Jordan said.
Syed took the second construction worker’s utility truck and fled to Orange, this time with California Highway Patrol officers in pursuit. He jumped from the moving utility truck at an intersection in Orange, about five miles away, and shot himself in the head, Jordan said.
“There really wasn’t a confrontation at the very end,” he said. “It happened so quickly.”
A shotgun was recovered at the scene and is believed to be the only weapon used.
A message left for Syed’s parents was not returned.