Relatives mourn victims in Santa shootings

Published 1:37 am Monday, December 29, 2008

COVINA, Calif. (AP) — Joseph and Alicia Ortega came from Mexico and raised a large, loving family supported by the metal painting business they started in Southern California.

The remaining members of that family now are in mourning, after a Christmas Eve attack on the Ortegas’ home by the vengeful ex-husband of one of their daughters, Sylvia Pardo.

Bruce Pardo donned a Santa Claus suit and killed nine members of the Ortega family during the Christmas party where the close-knit family gathered each year, before spraying the home with racing fuel that set it on fire. Pardo later killed himself.

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‘‘They really were a great family,’’ said Jose Castillo, Sylvia Pardo’s brother-in-law from an earlier marriage, who came to pay his respects Sunday at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac where the Ortegas’ two-story home once stood. ‘‘They used to be together all the time.’’

Joseph Ortega, 80, and Alicia, 70, had retired about 10 years ago from their business painting metal furniture and other items in nearby El Monte.

The couple immigrated to the United States shortly after their marriage 53 years ago in the Mexican city of Torreon, that city’s newspaper, El Siglo de Torreon, reported Saturday.

The family is well-known in the city, where Alicia’s sisters are prominent businesswomen, the newspaper’s editorial director Javier Garza told the Los Angeles Times.

Sylvia Pardo, 43, had been living at her parents’ home since her divorce from Bruce Pardo, a 45-year-old electrical engineer, about a year ago, Castillo said.

Her earlier marriage to Jose Castillo’s brother, Sabino Castillo, ended with Sabino’s death in a traffic accident about 20 years ago, when she was pregnant with their youngest of two children.

Both children, a 21-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, had escaped unharmed from the party where Bruce Pardo opened fire.

The slaughter came six days after Bruce and Sylvia Pardo appeared in court to finalize their divorce.

Police believe the dead included Sylvia Pardo’s two brothers and their wives, her sister and a 17-year-old nephew, as well as her parents.

Police listed the victims as unaccounted for because coroner’s officials said the nine bodies were too badly charred for immediate identification.

Bruce Pardo had planned to flee to Canada following the killing spree but suffered third-degree burns in the fire — which melted part of the Santa suit to him — and decided to kill himself instead, investigators said.

His body, with a bullet wound to the head, was found at his brother’s home about 40 miles away.

The rented compact car he had driven to his former in-laws house was rigged to set off 500 rounds of ammunition and later exploded outside his brother’s home. No one was injured.

Police also found a second car rented by Pardo late Saturday, but a bomb squad did not find any explosives in that vehicle. Investigators did find a canister of gasoline, water bottles, wrapped Christmas presents, two computers, and a map of Mexico, police said.

On Sunday, a stream of visitors drove by to look at the blackened heap of twisted metal and shards of timber that remain of the family home.

Tony and Ira Salas, who were close friends with both of Sylvia Pardo’s brothers, placed another bouquet on the makeshift shrine of flowers, burning votive candles and stuffed animals on the adjacent curbside.

‘‘They were a very close and loving family,’’ said Tony Salas, as Ira wept.