Subscribe
Bruce Jeffrey Pardo is seen in an undated photo provided Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008, by the Covina, Calif. Police Department. Covina Police have identified the 45-year-old Prado as a 'person of interest' after a man in a Santa suit opened fire at a party in a suburban Los Angeles home that subsequently caught fire, leaving three people dead. (AP Photo/Covina Police Department)

Plans thwarted when attacker suffered burns as he torched ex-in-laws' house

LOS ANGELES -- From his homemade incendiary device to his Santa Claus outfit, software engineer Bruce Jeffrey Pardo meticulously planned the final moments of his Christmas Eve.

He apparently even planned his escape, booking a plane ticket to Moline, Ill.

But the firebomb Prado set off melted the Santa suit into his flesh, causing third-degree burns and foiling his getaway plans.

Pardo's intent to flee rather than to kill himself, as he later did, was among the many developments presented by investigators and gleaned from court records and interviews with neighbors and family members Friday about the Christmas Eve massacre that horrified the country. A ninth body was discovered at the home of Pardo's former in-laws in Covina, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Pardo, 45, had stormed his ex-wife's parents' annual holiday party and slaughtered revelers with a barrage of bullets before setting the home on fire.

The victims have not been identified by the coroner. But a relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dead included Pardo's ex-wife, her parents, two of her brothers and their wives, a nephew and a sister.

Divorce records indicated a bitter split that climaxed Dec. 18 with a hearing in which Pardo's ex-wife, Sylvia, was granted a cash settlement and his beloved dog, Saki.

"From what I understand, at that hearing, it became very contentious," said Lt. Tim Doonan of the Covina Police Department.

"It's possible he started planning this prior to last Thursday. But based on Thursday . . . it might have been the trigger."

A major reason for the divorce, according to a source close to the investigation, was Sylvia Pardo's discovery that Pardo had abandoned his son years before after the boy suffered brain damage in a near-drowning incident. Compounding her anger was that Pardo continued to use the child as a tax write-off for seven years.

She demanded he stop claiming his son as a dependent.

Regardless of what happened in court, at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, Pardo arrived at the home of Joseph and Alicia Ortega, his ex-wife's parents. Pardo had disguised a pressurized fuel tank as a Christmas package and responded to the 8-year-old girl who answered the door to Santa Claus with a blast from a semi-automatic.

He entered the home, firing indiscriminately, before advancing more like a deliberate executioner.

"I need someone to come over and help my daughter," the girl's mother can be heard screaming to a 911 police dispatcher, according to a transcript released Friday. "She's been shot on the side of the face."

The woman then tries to describe the shooter, saying she couldn't recognize him at first in his outfit. The dispatcher asked her to identify the gunman.

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

The dispatcher tells her to hold on for a second.

"Please," the woman begs, "I don't know who else is still alive."

After the shootings, Pardo sprayed what police described as high-octane racing fuel around the house and set it afire. An explosion rocked the structure.

Pardo fled with severe burns and his Santa outfit seared into his flesh, police said. He still had $17,000 in cash strapped to his body.

Driving 40 miles to Sylmar, in the San Fernando Valley, he parked his rental car a block from his brother's house. He removed his shredded suit and used it to set up a boobytrap in the vehicle, police said. If the suit was moved, trip wires would ignite a flash fire and explode 200 rounds of ammunition.

At a news conference Friday, Covina Police Chief Kim Raney said, "This guy was sharp. He just had the expertise and the motivation to make a device that he could use for mass destruction."

A high school friend, Steve Erwin, said he spoke to Pardo just hours before the slayings but had no real answers.

"I don't know why he snapped," Erwin said from his home in Iowa.

The divorce and his unsuccessful job search -- he was fired in July -- weighed heavily on him, Erwin said. "So he was just sitting at home, thinking about everything."

The family tragedy that haunted Pardo and might have undone his marriage occurred on another winter day eight years before the killings. Pardo was then living in Calabasas, northwest of downtown, with his girlfriend and their 13-month old son, Bruce Matthew.

According to court records, on Jan. 6, 2001, the toddler, known as Matthew, fell into the couple's swimming pool while Pardo was supposed to be watching him. The child's mother, Elena Lucano, returned from shopping to find Pardo watching TV and Matthew missing, her attorney said. Pardo pulled Matthew from the pool alive but gravely injured.

Lucano said Pardo stayed by his son's hospital bedside constantly for the first week, forgoing food to be with him. He had talked about starting a college fund for the child before the accident, but doctors now gave Matthew little hope for a recovery. Pardo was racked with guilt, and the couple fought.

"Matthew being disabled . . . was too much for him," Lucano recalled.

They separated, and Pardo stopped visiting his son and contributing financially. Medical bills reached $337,000 in the first year. Lucano sued Pardo, but she directed her attorney to go after only his $100,000 homeowner's policy.

"She didn't want a dollar from his pocket," the lawyer, Jeffrey Alvirez, said.

Lucano maintained contact with Pardo's mother but never saw him again. Matthew, now 9, is severely brain damaged and a paraplegic.

Lucano said she never knew that Pardo was claiming their son as a dependent.

Standing outside the home where Pardo took his own life, his brother, Brad, said he was as distraught as he was puzzled about the slayings. He said he knew that his brother, who had lost his job as a software engineer in July, was depressed and thought he was going to sell his home.

"We never saw this coming; we never thought this would ever happen," he said. He and his wife planned to write letters of condolence to the victims' families.

" she told the court, according to transcripts. "When I returned after a weekend at my parents' home, he had moved my belongings out to the driveway."

Sylvia and her daughter moved into her sister and brother-in-law's home. At the time, she asked the court to order Pardo to pay support while she either found a new job or got more hours at her current job.

Sylvia reportedly worked at as an administrative assistant at an ornamental nursery. In the court records, she states that she made $19 an hour, working 33 hours a week. She also states that she borrowed money from her sister and brother-in-law to pay for attorney's fees.

Other details about Pardo also emerged Friday. According to his divorce papers, he was fired in July from his job as a software engineer at a defense contractor. A spokesman for ITT said Pardo worked in the air and surface surveillance radar division for three years but declined to say whether he left of his own accord or was fired.

Another source said Pardo once had worked at Northrop Grumman and that he had claimed on his company profile that he had a master's degree from the University of Southern California. Although Pardo had been enrolled there, he never received the degree.

Investigators said the shooting likely had been planned over several months.

The rampage began shortly before 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when Pardo, dressed as Santa Claus, approached the front door of Sylvia's parents' home with a large wrapped package. Inside the two-story home at the end of a cul-de-sac, his ex-wife, her parents and about two-dozen family and friends were enjoying their annual holiday party.

An 8-year-old girl answered his knock. When the door opened, Pardo shot her in the face with a semiautomatic handgun, stepped into the house and opened fire on the revelers. Amid the chaos, he doused the house with the flammable liquid from a pressurized fuel tank.

Partygoers fled as the house went up in flames. They ran to neighbors' homes and called 911. A young woman leaped from a second-floor window, breaking her ankle.

The 8-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl who was shot in the back survived and were taken to hospitals. The 16-year-old, a daughter of Sylvia Pardo, was discharged later from Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. The 8-year-old was in stable condition Friday in the hospital's intensive care unit, said County-USC spokeswoman Adelaida De La Cerda.

"She's alert, she's doing fine. They're doing whatever they can so she's not more traumatized than she is already," De La Cerda said.

As flames engulfed the Covina house on Christmas Eve and into Christmas morning, police kept firefighters at bay, believing the gunman might still be in the area. The second floor of the house fell to the ground.

But Pardo had left the scene quickly, driving to his brother's house in the San Fernando Valley. Shortly before 3:30 a.m., the brother summoned Los Angeles police, saying he had come home to find Pardo dead with a gunshot wound to the head.

When police searched Pardo's rental car in Sylmar, a suspicious object inside exploded, engulfing the car in flames. By 9 a.m. Thursday, Covina detectives had arrived at Pardo's house in Montrose and cordoned it off. Officers later carried away four shotguns, a handgun, wrapping paper and a fuel tank like the one Pardo used in the attack.

Recently, Pardo had been living in the Montrose home alone, said Detective Antonio Zavala.

Among the dead were Sylvia Pardo and her parents, Joseph Ortega, 80, and Alicia Ortega, 70, sources said Friday. Authorities said the bodies found in the house were so badly burned that dental records would be needed to identify them.

On Friday, a relative said two of Sylvia's brothers and their wives, the son of one of her brothers and one sister were killed. Her only sibling to survive was a sister. Sylvia had been married three times and her three children, Selina, Sal and Amanda, were at the party and survived.

Standing outside his Sylmar home Friday, Pardo's brother, Brad Pardo, said he knew his brother was depressed and thought he was going to sell his home.

"We never saw this coming, we never thought this would ever happen," Brad Pardo said. "We want to tell the (families) how sorry we are."

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo

Gunman

had settled bitter divorce proceedings last week.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette