The gunman knew his victims. He knew the office park — and how to trap them.
He locked the gates to the complex with bike cables before he slipped inside a manufactured homes business called Unified Homes, backpack slung over his shoulder, gun in hand.
That’s how police Thursday described the start of a shooting in Orange the night before that left four people, including a 9-year-old boy, dead.
Officers arrived at the scene about 5:30 p.m., minutes after receiving reports of shooting. They encountered gunfire and shot through the locked gates, wounding the gunman, said Orange Police Lt. Jennifer Amat. They used bolt cutters to enter the complex.
Officers found two victims in the courtyard — the boy and a woman who was alive and taken to a hospital, where she remains in stable yet critical condition. Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said it appeared that the boy died in the arms of a woman who “was trying to save him.”
The boy is believed to be the son of one of the victims who worked at Unified Homes. It is not clear if the mother is the woman hospitalized.
Police found three more bodies: a woman on an upstairs outdoor landing, a man in an office and a woman in a separate office.
The victims’ names have not been released because their next of kin have not all been notified, Amat said. The suspect is Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, a 44-year-old man last known to be living in Anaheim who police said had a “business and personal relationship” with the victims.
“It is a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Spitzer said, “that Mr. Gonzalez made a decision to use deadly force to deal with issues he was dealing with in his life. So he will suffer and face the consequences.”
Police recovered a semiautomatic handgun and a backpack with pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition, “which we believe belonged to the suspect,” Amat said Thursday.
The suspect had been living in a motel room in Anaheim, and arrived at the business in a rental car, police said. A photo released by authorities showed a man entering the business dressed in black and gray with sunglasses, a baseball hat and a black bandanna covering his face. He had a backpack on his left shoulder and a gun in his right hand.
Two police officers discharged their weapons, said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office, which investigates officer-involved shootings. Both were wearing body cameras.
The incident — the third mass shooting in the United States in two weeks — stunned the quiet north Orange neighborhood.
Tim Smith was sitting in his living room watching TV news about a commercial fire in Compton when he heard the crack of gunfire.
Seconds later, three more shots. His wife, Kim, joined him. The couple has lived in their home on Dunton Avenue since 1992, and said the most disruption they deal with on a typical day is the sound of neighbors mowing their lawns.
They looked at each other as four more gunshots sounded.
They got low in the house to shield themselves. After a moment, Smith went to the back door and cracked it open to listen.
Smith’s backyard — lined with tall cypress trees — is feet away from the office building’s back parking lot. Smith heard a male officer’s booming voice barking a command: “Don’t move or I will shoot you.”
He watched from his shed as the SWAT team moved into the building, silently, and in strategic formation.
Smith says he was heartened that police arrived so fast.
“The key part about that is that the next sound I heard after those horrible gunshots was an officer trying to protect me,” he said. “It’s scary in the moment with no knowledge, but when you do figure it out and you do get composure, it makes you grateful.”
Kennedy Gonzalez, 21, was dining out Wednesday night when he noticed police blocking off Lincoln Avenue. Gonzalez said he knew something serious had happened, but it wasn’t until Thursday morning that he received a phone call and learned of the shooting.
“And it turns out, I know the guy,” he said. He’s “part of my family.”
When Gonzalez saw a photo of the shooting suspect, he referred to him as his uncle.
“We tried calling him this morning, no answer,” he said. “No one told us anything until we got word.”
A neighbor of the suspect, who asked just to use her first name Rosa out of fear of retaliation, told The Times that she’d regularly see him, his wife, two young boys and a teenage girl going for walks.
The family lived in a mobile home on space No. 50 of the Anaheim Royal Estates.
They’d often wave and say hello as they walked past Rosa, who often sits on her front porch. The greetings, she said, never turned into conversations.
But over the years Rosa, 35, put together small details of the family. The wife, whom she identified as Aleyda Mendoza, worked as a real estate agent at Unified Homes. She had once told Rosa that whenever she wanted to purchase her own home, to see her and that she would help make it happen.
One of the little boys would come and play with her children.
“He was a little pale boy like his dad,” she said. “He’d always walk by saying hello. He was very sweet.”
She feared he was the boy who died.
Rosa said the teenage girl, now 19, would often come and hang out and speak to her sister. The husband, Rosa said, he seemed nice and a well-mannered man who worked in construction.
“I’d never saw him as someone who was capable of doing something like that,” she said. “I just didn’t think he would be like that.”
Scott Clark owns Calico Financial, next door to Unified Homes inside the office complex. Reached by phone Thursday, Clark estimated that 30 or 40 people worked in the building. Most businesses have two or three employees, he said, noting that Unified is probably the largest business in the complex, with 10 or 12 people.
Most days, Clark leaves work about 6 p.m., but “for some reason, I guess God gave me a little angel to make me leave early last night, so I was out of there by 4:30,” he said. His staff was also gone by the time the shooting occurred.
Maria Reynoso, an agent at Unified Homes, was reached by phone Thursday but said, through tears, that she didn’t want to speak to anyone.
The Orange violence came a week after a gunman opened fire at a Boulder, Colo., supermarket and two weeks after a massacre at three Atlanta-area spas.
“How many more children have to die before our policymakers act?” asked James Densley, cofounder and copresident of the Violence Project, which monitors and studies mass violence.
During the pandemic, mass shootings decreased because many public spaces were closed, he said, but overall gun violence — which includes gang-related and organized crime shootings — went way up.
“2020 was the worst year on record for gun violence in a long time,” he said, noting that homicides peaked in the U.S. in the mid-1990s and reached a low around 2014. Since then, the numbers have climbed steadily, with the latest data pointing to a potential 25% increase between 2019 and 2020.
“We made almost 30 years of gains in reductions in homicides, and in a year, we’re now at a point where we’re looking right back where we were in the 1990s again,” he said. “It’s shocking. It’s infuriating, actually.”
The recent shootings have revived a nationwide conversation about gun violence. After last week’s shooting in Boulder, President Biden made a plea for more gun control, calling on the Senate to pass two House-approved bills closing background check loopholes for gun buyers.
“This is not and should not be a partisan issue,” Biden said. “This is an American issue.”
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said Thursday that he was devastated by the news.
“We must all condemn this unspeakable act of violence,” Correa said in a statement. “My thoughts are with the victims and their families in this difficult time.
“Communities all across the country are experiencing the same pain and devastation that we feel today. I mourn for those lost last night and throughout the United States. This violence must end.”
Arianna Barrios, a City Council member in Orange, said the community was trying to get some sense of what had happened inside the office building on Wednesday.
“I am grateful to our Orange police officers for the quick response and believe their actions in all likelihood prevented additional lives from being lost,” she said.
“Orange is a strong, resilient community. The victims, their families and all who have been touched by this monstrous act of violence can depend on us to stand with them in this terrible time.”
Times staff writers Anh Do and Hayley Smith contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story included a quote from someone who said he knew the gunman. The person since said he did not know him