TUSTIN, Calif. – Police identified Ali Syed, an unemployed sometime-student who lived at home with his parents, as the killer who stole cars and fired into freeway traffic during a shooting spree that covered 25 miles and took less than an hour. “I killed somebody,” he reportedly told the driver of a pickup during one carjacking. “Today is my last day.”
Police said Syed executed Melvin Lee Edwards, 69, a businessman on his way to work, after ordering him out of his car and walking him to the curb. Minutes later, he confronted Jeremy Lewis, 26, a worker at a construction site, and shot him as he sat in his truck. But investigators had not identified a woman they believe was Syed’s first victim. She was shot multiple times before dawn in the home where Syed lived with his parents and other family members in the Orange County community of Ladera Ranch.
Syed’s parents told investigators they did not know the woman and had never seen her before, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators were trying late Tuesday to identify her through her fingerprints.
“There’s no indication of a motive” to the shootings, Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan said.
Neighbors reported hearing what sounded like gunshots in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Investigators believe the first victim, described only as a woman in her 20s, was shot about 4:45 a.m. PST. Syed’s parents were home at the time and called police as they fled outside.
Rachel Johnson, 28, said she heard a pop along with what sounded like a man yelling and a woman screaming, but not a loud scream, sometime before 4 a.m.
“It was loud; it wasn’t just talking,” she said of the man’s voice.
Her bedroom window faces the house and she said she woke up to the sounds — sounds that didn’t alarm her at the time — sometime between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
However, Jay Smith, 27, said he and his wife, who have a shared wall with the Syeds, didn’t hear any noises Tuesday morning, including anything resembling a shotgun being fired.
“I’m from Mississippi, so I know what they sound like,” he said Tuesday night.
Property records identify the home’s owners as Irfan and Sarwat Syed. Amormino emphasized that Sarwat was not the unidentified woman found shot to death in the home.
Police and Sheriff’s Department officials gave the following account of what happened next:
Ali Syed took the family’s GMC Yukon Denali and fled north on I-5, but pulled off the freeway in Tustin after the SUV got a flat tire. The driver of a dark Cadillac waiting in a parking lot saw that Syed was armed and tried to escape. Syed shot the car’s back window, hitting and wounding the driver in the head.
He moved next to a pickup, ordering the driver to give him the keys. The driver told investigators that Syed said something along the lines of: “I killed somebody. Today’s my last day,” or “I’m not going to live,” Jordan said. And then: “I’d like your keys. I don’t want to hurt you.”
He drove the pickup northbound on I-5, then turned south onto the 55 Freeway but stopped on the transition road and opened fire into traffic. One driver was hit in the hand and face, possibly by glass shards; two other vehicles were hit but their drivers were not injured.
Syed pulled off the freeway again in Santa Ana because the truck was low on gas. He took a corner too quickly, went over the curb and then got out of the truck and approached Edwards, stopped in his BMW at a stop sign.
He walked Edwards to the curb and then “basically executed him,” Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said. Edwards, the chairman of a company called Rubicon Gear, was shot three times as half a dozen witnesses watched.
Syed took Edwards’ BMW, made a U-turn back onto the southbound 55 Freeway, then quickly exited. He stopped at a construction site and shot Lewis in his truck. A co-worker ran over, and Syed leveled the gun and ordered the man to run, then shot him in the arm.
He took that man’s truck and got back on the freeway, this time heading north. California Highway Patrol officers got behind him but were just getting in position to attempt to pull him over when he turned off the freeway in Orange.
He stepped from the car before it had come to a stop and “almost instantly” shot himself in the head, Jordan said. It was about 5:30 a.m., 45 minutes after the first shooting in Ladera Ranch. Police said they recovered a shotgun near his body that belonged to him or his family.
Syed had no criminal record. He was unemployed but had been taking college-prep classes at Saddleback College. He was enrolled this semester in a computer-maintenance class, college spokeswoman Jennie McCue said.
He graduated in 2010 from J. Serra High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where he attended the continuation school, said Marcus Walton, a school district spokesman.
Police had not been called before to the Ladera Ranch condominium where Syed lived with his parents and other children in the family.
Neighbors said the family included a younger brother and sister.
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Smith, the neighbor, had met the parents, both of whom he described as very nice and the first to say hello when he moved in, and knew they had two children, but he had never met Ali Syed.
“I swear, I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen him,” Smith said. “He’s a ghost to me.”
Josh Hubner, 15, said he sits next to the younger sister in his math class at San Juan Hills High School.
Hubner said Syed looked like a guy who kept to himself when he saw him a couple times around the neighborhood.
Another neighbor said the younger brother wasn’t in her science class Tuesday.
Tanner Doezie, 18, and Josh Ord, 17, said San Juan Hills High School was buzzing with rumors Tuesday.
“It’s crazy. It doesn’t seem like anything like that happens here,” Doezie said of the quiet Ladera Ranch neighborhood.
(Register staff writers Claudia Koerner, Kim Pierceall, Sean Emery, Deepa Bharath, Sarah de Crescenzo, Thomas Martinez, Brooke Edwards Staggs, Joanna Clay and special correspondent Marie Ekberg Padilla contributed to this report.)
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