The bloodbath began when an 8-year-old girl attending a Christmas Eve party answered a knock at the door. A man dressed as Santa and carrying what appeared to a present pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face, then began shooting indiscriminately as partygoers tried to flee.
By the time it was over, at least nine people at the party were dead and the house was torched. The gunman killed himself hours after exacting revenge against his ex-wife by going on a massacre at his former in-laws' home.
Bruce Pardo's ex-wife, Sylvia Pardo, and her parents were believed to be among the dead. The ninth body was found Friday morning when investigators resumed searching what was left of their two-story home on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
The gift-wrapped box Pardo was carrying actually contained a pressurized homemade device the former aerospace industry worker used to spray a liquid that quickly sent the house up in flames.
David Salgado, a neighbor, said he saw the 8-year-old victim being escorted to an ambulance by four SWAT team members as flames up to 40 feet high consumed the house.
"It was really ugly," Salgado said.
Following the shootings, Pardo quickly got out of the Santa suit and drove off, witnesses told police. He went to his brother's home about 25 miles away in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. No one was home, so Pardo let himself in, police said.
Police were called to the home early Thursday, and officers found Pardo dead of a single bullet to the head. Two handguns were found at the scene, and two more were discovered in the wreckage of his former in-laws' house.
A rental car that Pardo apparently parked near his brother's home exploded Thursday evening. The L.A. County sheriff's bomb squad found a suspicious package, but as they tried to diffuse, the car erupted in flames, Sgt. James Bender told the Los Angeles Times.
Pardo, 45, had no criminal record and no history of violence, according to police, but he was angry following last week's settlement of his divorce after a short marriage.
"It was not an amicable divorce," police Lt. Pat Buchanan said.
Investigators seeking further information about Pardo's motives have begun searching his home in the suburban Los Angeles community of Montrose.
A court summary of the divorce case shows that Sylvia Pardo filed for a dissolution of marriage on March 24, 2008. The summary indicates the two reached a settlement on Dec. 18 and were separated after about two years of marriage.
Court documents show Sylvia Pardo got the couple's dog, the wedding ring and $10,000 in the settlement agreement, while he got the house. In June, the court ordered Bruce Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support and put him on a payment plan of $450 a month for $3,570 that was unpaid.
His attorney, Stanley Silver, said he had trouble making the payments after he lost his job in July, but spousal support was waived in the settlement signed earlier this month.
Silver said his client seemed cheerful when he left a message two days before the shooting and was trying to pay the $10,000 to finalize the divorce proceedings. He said he never saw any sign Pardo was angry or unstable.
"All of my dealings with him were always pleasant and cheerful," Silver said. "I'd never encountered him when he was ... angry or unpleasant at all."
Police said Bruce Pardo showed up at his former in-laws' home around 11:30 p.m. for their annual Christmas party.
After the carnage began, neighbor Jan Gregory said she saw a teenage boy flee the home, screaming, "'They shot my family.'"
A 16-year-old girl was shot in the back, and a 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when she escaped by jumping from a second-story window. Those two, and the 8-year-old, remained hospitalized. All were expected to recover.
When the fire was extinguished early Thursday, officers found three charred bodies in the living room area.
"They were met with a scene that was just indescribable," police Chief Kim Raney said. Investigators found five more bodies amid the ashes later in the day. Coroner's Lt. Larry Dietz said the ninth body was found Friday morning.
None of the dead or missing has been identified. Authorities were unable to immediately determine whether the victims were killed by the flames or the gunfire.
Pardo's neighbor, 39-year-old George Tataje, said his dog and Pardo's big, brown Akita would play together at a nearby park but he didn't speak to him much. Other neighbors frequently saw him working on his lawn and walking his dog.
At his home in Montrose, a hilly suburb north of Los Angeles, Christmas lights decorated the roof and plastic nutcracker soldiers and striped candy canes poked out of the neatly trimmed lawn. A black Cadilla Escalade and a white Hummer were parked in the driveway.
He also served regularly as an usher at evening Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Jan Detanna, the head usher at the church, was stunned when told about the violence.
"I'm just — this is shocking," Detanna told the Times. "He was the nicest guy you could imagine. Always a pleasure to talk to, always a big smile."
Bong Garcia, another of Pardo's next-door neighbors, told the Times he saw Pardo between 9 and 10 p.m. Christmas Eve and spoke briefly to him. Pardo told him he was on his way to a Christmas party, Garcia said.