Custody Battle Blamed in Seal Beach Massacre; One Victim Clings to Life

Details emerge about Scott Dekraai, who police say fatally shot eight people at a Seal Beach salon. Witnesses and friends describe chaos at the crime scene and factors leading up to the slayings.

The heavily armed gunman who police say strolled into a Seal Beach beauty salon Wednesday afternoon and sprayed the room with bullets—killing eight and wounding one—was a doting dad and nice guy who must have snapped, neighbors said.

“I just waved at him this morning on my way to work, and he seemed fine,” said suspect ’s next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow. “When I came home, I didn’t know what had happened until I saw police digging through our trash.”

But , an endearing boat captain who began spiraling downward after a gruesome work accident four years ago. A bitter custody feud with his second ex-wife, Michelle, a stylist at the salon, might have pushed him over the edge, they said.

Terror in the Salon

Dressed in body armor and carrying an arsenal of weapons, Dekraai allegedly entered , in the 500 block of Pacific Coast Highway, around 1:20 p.m. Wednesday and gunned down nine people, including his ex, with a pistol.

"We're not sure at this time if he shot from the entrance or if people were shot as they ran seeking shelter, but they were shot all over the salon," Seal Beach police Sgt. Steve Bowles said.

One employee, Kathy McGhee, was working in a back room when the commotion began, according to her husband, Dave McGhee. A customer grabbed her and locked the door behind them, McGhee said. Moments later, someone tried to open the door from the outside, but didn't get in, he said.

She called 911 and then her husband.

Police arrived a minute later, in time to follow a white pickup truck believed to be the suspect's.

Inside the salon, authorities found six people dead, including owner Randy Fannin. Three others—two men and a woman—were rushed to Long Beach Memorial Hospital. One of the wounded was found in a nearby car with the passenger window shot out.

Two of the wounded have since died, making this the worst mass slaying in Orange County history, surpassing a 1976 shooting in the library of Cal State Fullerton.

The final victim, 73-year-old Hattie Stretz of Seal Beach, still clung to life in critical condition Thursday. Stretz's daughter was among those who perished in the hail of bullets, friend Dean Grose said.

Others were more fortunate.

Jeannie Nagle, a former Lakewood High School classmate of three of the victims, told K-CAL9 that some people in the salon laid on the ground and pretended to be dead to escape the gunfire.

Custody Dispute Cited as Motive

Police said the motive was under investigation, but McGhee and others said DeKraai had recently lost a custody battle with ex-wife Michelle Fournier. Court records show Dekraai filed for divorce in March 2007 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

(Dekraai's first marriage, to Kristen Dekraai, apparently ended in 1999, records show.)

After the shooting, Nagle said Dekraai warned Michelle he would do something like this. Nagle described him as unstable.

Neighbor Malchow, however, had a different take.

It’s hard to reconcile the image of Orange County’s worst mass murder with the friendly neighbor who shared gardening tips and plants, gave birthday gifts to newborns and joined the Neighborhood Watch program, said Malchow.

“I don’t want people to think he is just an evil monster. He’s a nice guy, but he must have snapped,” Malchow said. “If he was in a custody dispute, that would explain why he snapped. He loves his little boy more than anything else in the world.”

Dekraai doted on his son, playing with him in the front yard and worrying when the boy went to stay with his mother. Dekraai complained about her to Malchow. He said he didn’t trust her parenting, and complained that she did things like drop their son off at school too early in the morning, Malchow said.

“His son is such a sweet little boy and an innocent in all this. It’s so sad to think that he is going to suffer the most out of everyone. He is just a poor kid, not even 9, and his family is gone from him,” said Malchow. “He’ll never be able to get far enough away from all this. He’ll be that kid at school who all the kids point at and say, 'That’s the kid whose dad did that horrible thing.' ”

DeKraai recently married his third wife, Mindy, in the backyard of their Huntington Beach home and invited all the neighbors. After moving into the neighborhood, the couple quickly became popular for their thoughtful gestures, said Malchow. When DeKraai went fishing, he shared his catch with neighbors. When Malchow left her garage door open, DeKraai knocked on her door and pointed it out, warning her about burglars. The succulents lining Malchow’s house are from cuttings that DeKraai shared.

“I can’t make sense out of any of this,” said Malchow. “I still think he is a nice guy, but just when you think you know someone, this happens.”

Suspect In Custody

Shortly after the salon rampage, DeKraai was arrested about a half mile away, at Central Avenue and 12th Street. A witness who videotaped the arrest on her cell phone camera told K-CAL9 the suspect cooperated and told officers there were guns in the car and that he couldn’t get down on his knees because of a prosthetic in his leg.

Another bystander said guns were strapped to the DeKraai's body and an arsenal weapons was strewn across the floorboard of his truck.

Hours later, investigators were still combing through the vehicle, which bore a Raiders football sticker on the tailgate and a Tea Party license plate frame on the front bumper.

Authorities said they weren't sure how many weapons were used in the shooting.

"Obviously a crime of this magnitude is something that Seal Beach is not familiar with," Sgt. Bowles said. "This could be one of our greatest tragedies, and it has had a tremendous effect on our small community.”

He added, "On behalf of the Seal Beach Police Department we want to express our condolences to all affected by this tragedy. ... I’d like to assure the community of Seal Beach that the Police Department is working very hard, aggressively and thoroughly to investigate the shooting.”

'Things Like This Don't Happen Here'

Strangely, the shooting took place not far from a fake crime scene set up for a TV taping of CSI: Miami.

The real crime scene quickly drew a big crowd.

"I was sitting on the beach when I heard sirens so I ran to see what was happening," said Marc Loopesko, who lives down the street from the salon.

About 100 residents, some dressed for the beach and others who raced over from work, stood around the block where news vans mixed with fire trucks. Seal Beach fire engine 44, arriving from three blocks away, was first on the scene to treat victims.

The chaos was compounded by the fact there are at least three salons in the shopping center at PCH and Fifth Street. Several people frantically walked around the roped-off crime scene trying to find out if their loved ones were alive.

Seal Beach resident Gary Takacs watched police flood into the area as he was heading out to an appointment.

“I saw police were swarming in, and I knew something big was happening," he said. "My wife knows the owners very well. Everyone around here knows everyone. We are really a tight community—we are all friends and family, and I know we are going to be hurting. It’s a sleepy little town, and things like this don’t happen—except it did happen. It just doesn’t seem true."

'Eight Souls'

On Wednesday evening, relatives and friends of the victims were being counseled at the Mary Wilson Library downtown. Fernando Serna, who works at a nearby auto shop and had been observing the post-shooting aftermath, said it was "a pretty sad sight" when family members started arriving at the library.

Elsewhere, a prayer meeting was held at SeaCoast Church.

By Thursday morning, the crime scene tape was down and black plastic was draped across the salon windows. A makeshift memorial was set up outside the salon's front door. In addition to flowers, two handwritten poems were left, one titled "The Day After" and another called "Eight Souls."

TV cameras and reporters were everywhere. One teary-eyed couple dropped off flowers by the salon, then hurried away.

News and photos from the day after Orange County's worst mass killing.

Related: Stunned Locals Grieve on Social Media

—Patch staff writers Nancy Wride and Jenna Chandler contributed to this report.

Arvid October 13, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Howard: Your comments are full of gross generalizations. Let's set the vagaries of armchair behaviorism and specious causality aside and look at what we do know: 8 people were murdered and a suspect is in custody. The first order of business is to take care of the victims and their loved ones; the second order of business is to, beyond the shadow of a doubt, ascertain the *individual(s)* who perpetrated the crime and bring them to justice. A cursory examination of motive, led by, among other people, *credentialed* experts, will ensue during the trial. Context will surface and justice will be served. After this, prison psychologists, criminologists, and, over time, anthropologists, can tease through data points and hypotheses. Perhaps your opinion of these issues will benefit from following the methodology of these longer term efforts.
Howard A Samms October 14, 2011 at 12:03 AM
Arvid - I concur with your 1st order of business, however, everything else is useless. Don't you ever stop and ask why the richest, most successful country in the world should be plagued with this type of behavior, time after time after time. What are we doing wrong - where have we gone astray. But you and so many others don't get it, you just want to hang someone. If you think that Scotty had a MOTIVE, you are so far away from reality there's no value in reaching out to you. As I've said humans are complex animals. People react in different ways to different experiences and WE have a responsibility to be more sensitive to peoples' feelings. That's the cancer and until we remedy this insensitive behavior we will continue to have these horrors pop up all over the country. Don't you get it. We are all involved and responsible. You can bring Scotty to justice, send him to the EC but that solves nothing. Six months from today, a similar event will unfold somewhere, grounded in insensitive behavior, It's so sad - no one gets it. The old west mentaity lives on - just hang somebody and be done with it
Kathleen October 14, 2011 at 12:27 AM
What was to be gained by mentioning that this psychotic man had Raiders bumper sticker and Tea Party license plate frame on his vehicle? Please do not politicize this tragedy. Up until this point The Patch has very good at providing us unbiased up to date information regarding happenings in our local communities. I stopped reading theLA Times because of their extreme bias and pray you don't start. Just in case you are wondering I am neither a Raider fan or a Tea Party member.
Arvid October 14, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Howard: The disconnect is clear. You disagree with both the underpinnings of our justice system as well as the majority of credible behavioral scientists (who, as you may know also engage in "systems thinking"). I am aware that humans are complex animals. I am familiar with the bodies of research in these areas. And the calculus on the "interconnectedness" and "interdependency" of humans ( and indeed all organisms) is quite fascinating. Your sentiment is understandable, but the problem is indeed complex. And, fortunately, smart people work on this every day. To even suggest that "insensitivity to peoples' feelings" is 1.) A primary driver of this or any similar act, and 2.) A clinically or logically acceptable premise for a plausible conclusion is simply laughable. Given the frequent oversimplification of issues and harping on environmental drivers, readers might reasonably surmise that the author of your postings was, at some point in the past, treated poorly, and, having responded in a fashion contrary to societal norms, punished. In fact, one could argue that the text of your comments says nothing about this tragedy and volumes about the poster. But, again, we all share a desired outcome: a dramatic reduction of these senseless acts.
Shelby October 14, 2011 at 03:34 AM
Thank you Sharen! The children that lost there parents will never be forgotten and our community will make sure they are supported through this! Thank you for thinking of us and prayers.....good vibes.....wishes........for strength are very much needed at this time!
Dan October 14, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Howard's comments have me wondering if anyone has checked to see how many guns he has. I'm also curious if his wife, friends, or neighbors are contacting officials yet with concerns over his antisocial behavior evidenced by his insistence on forcing his opinion on others who are so evidently grieving, thereby displaying the very insensitivity that he is preaching against. Get help, Howard, before we have to read about what you've done.
Shelby October 14, 2011 at 04:56 AM
Howard, you are a walking/typing contradiction! You keep saying how everyone needs to take responsibility. Where is your responsibility? You keep saying you are sympathetic to what we are going through, yet you continue to go on and on about how we need to be "less selfish, more caring" You are so caring, yet you couldn’t even take the time to "lend an ear" let alone spell my name correctly! You need to wake up and practice what you preach! You are the one that does not get it! We don't need to use a tragedy like this to become better human beings because we were "better human beings" before this and will continue to be! Your definition of a "close knit" community is very different then the reality of this close knit community. Before you make generalization you should get your facts straight. Have you ever even been to Seal Beach? Do you even know anything about our community? To say that we don't take any responsibility for what we could have done to prevent this, blame ourselves or say "what if" a thousand times a day, is insulting! You are damn right I take your comments personally! I am right here living in this community and you are sitting behind a computer screen! I just came from the candle light memorial and not one person there had blame on their mind! To say that none of the teachers or parents of the Columbine tragedy take responsibility or feel remorse for what they could have done to prevent what happened, only proves how truly ignorant you are!
Shelby October 14, 2011 at 05:18 AM
Wow! The sympathetic, ear lending, selfless, make the world a better place, Howard just told Avrid that her well documented information was useless. Howard, you need to stop and ask yourself why you continue to spew the very same things you are saying need to happen to prevent these tragedies. Telling someone that they are so far from reality that there is no value reaching out to them is a contradiction to everything you are preaching! You are a bully! You are absolutely right we have a responsibility to other people feelings and I pray that one day you truly understand what that means. Right now the "cancer" is you and I think it is best that you leave us all alone so that this thread can get back to what it was........people reaching out to each other, accepting each other and trying to find information out about their loved ones! Good bye Howard A Samms! Thank you for your opinions!
Dan October 14, 2011 at 05:21 AM
I was a long time client of Victoria's. She had the best sense of humor and I can still hear her laughter. My divorce was a tough time for me, but it didn't make me want to pick up a gun. Blame PTSD all you want, but Scott made a choice and acted on it. He could have picked up a phone and called a psychiatrist, or even better, the Police and said "Hey, I have guns, and I want to kill my ex-wife today." I'm sure he'd have gotten the help he needed to prevent this tragedy. Instead, he made a choice. A bad one, to be sure, but it was still his choice. It required him to take action to carry it out. He didn't "snap". That's a cop out for not taking personal responsibility for his actions. I'm ex-military also, and have been through things worse than what Scott was going through. (And, no, I don't own a flak jacket - so to the person who commented that Scott owned a flak jacket because he was ex-military... The military doesn't say "Here's your discharge paperwork and a flak jacket." They take back everything when you're discharged, so Scott either bought or stole the one he had.) The bottom line is, if your life sucks, deal with it, learn from it, and move on. You don't kill people and ruin lives because you didn't get your way. Just my two cents. No need for rebuttal.. You have the right to your opinion. Defend your rights, and keep your opinion for yourself. ----- My deepest condolences to the families of all of the real victims in this mess.
Roy Rivenburg October 14, 2011 at 05:48 AM
Kathleen, I'm not sure how mentioning a Raiders sticker is a politicizing the tragedy. Beyond that, these are merely descriptive details, like saying the truck was colored white or made by Toyota. Readers can decide for themselves if it means anything. The flip side is that if we had NOT mentioned the Tea Party license frame, which is clearly visible in a number of media photos, someone might have accused us of playing politics by not mentioning it. In any case, it was meant to be descriptive, not political. If he'd had a Justin Bieber or Sesame Street sticker, we'd have mentioned that too.
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Howard is right. You cannot comprehend what he is saying and he is wasting his time and energy trying to educate the masses. Arvid You refer to the underpinnings of our justice system. Are you referring to the O.J. Simpson trial? Or the Rodney King beating? I predict what will happen here. He goes to trial and the plea is TEMPORARY INSANITY. He goes to a hospital and in 5 yrs. he is back on the street. This is the underpinnings of the justice system. You people live in a vacuum.
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Dan I did not know you knew Scott? You said he could of picked up a phone and called a psychiatrist. How well did you know him? Why didn't you tell him to call the police? Your remarks make little sense. You are a disturbed man. ex Nam vet without a flak jacket
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Dan Your a piece of work. If you cannot accept Howard's views than drop it. Victoria would of wanted it that way. Even your ex would of wanted it for the children you left..
Arvid October 14, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Jackooo: 1.) Your prediction is statistically improbable. 2.) I do, in fact understand what Howard is saying. Howard seems incapable of constructing a coherent argument, among other things. You seem to share this attribute with Howard. 3.) Comparing the slaughter of eight people, with witnesses, evidence, and established motive, with either O.J. or Rodney King is simply inane. In fact, the comparison is so misguided and factually problematic, it only serves to further undermine your credibility. There will likely be a trial (if the suspect remains alive), and there will be a verdict. It is *highly unlikely* that the suspect will spend less than life in either a prison or hospital. The suspect and this tragedy will become another series of data points for professionals who work to understand and prevent tragic outcomes like this one.
Byron Ferguson October 14, 2011 at 05:47 PM
jackoo, please take note that you are Howard's lone cheerleader, that should tell you something (might you 2 know each other? hmmm). Apparently the word 'accountability' is also missing from your vocabulary. Dan's post makes some good points, but i wouldn't expect you to be able to grasp them.
Arvid October 14, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Byron- given the common style and refrain in comments by Howard and jackooo, I would suggest that they are, in fact, the same person. If they aren't, well, they actually are ;-)
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Byron I have not responded to your posts in the past because I could see that you were not the sharpest rock in the pile. Consider this the only reply you will receive: I do not know Howard. You may know some or all of the people that post with your opinion. I will not berate myself by saying you do or do not. Before my 16 yr. old nephew left my house to return back East from vacation I sat him down and told him this: If you have learned nothing on your trip out here remember this........99% of the people you will meet are morons. With that I say goodbye 99.
Arvid October 14, 2011 at 06:14 PM
jackoo: Fortunately, in imparting such sage advice to your nephew, you did confirm that 99% of the people he met on vacation were morons. You obviously didn't introduce him to any other people. I would also love to understand your metric for intelligence. It obviously doesn't involve logic, dispassionate discourse, and rhetoric.
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 06:14 PM
1. I How do u figure? 2. Howard is saying in simple terms that a lot went into the decision to kill. That there were a lot of factors. That is the way I understand it. My personal opinion is to extinguish Scott's life now and save the money. 3. The comparison is regrading the judicial system that can be bought and manipulated.
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 06:16 PM
How do you assume that?
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 06:17 PM
My metric for intelligence....lol One example is the camera flashes that go off in a sports stadium to capture the action on the field.
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 06:55 PM
arvid Again you place the utmost faith in my assumption of the 99% probability. ALL. I repeat ALL were in the 1% probability. He met NONE of the 99% ers because I do not associate with them personalty. I am surprised I am even posting to the 99%. Not my style.
Martin October 14, 2011 at 07:18 PM
A Tea Party member, big surprise!
Joker Joe October 14, 2011 at 07:32 PM
Arvid 1.) Your prediction is statistically improbable. My prediction is improbable? What is your basis? I am saying that the plea will be temporary insanity! You are saying improbable? As to the camera I will elaborate but in doing so you will see why the 99% factor comes to fruition. I do admire you asking though as it will expand your horizons...... The flash of the camera travels 10 to 15 feet maximum in an outdoor setting therefore it is worthless in catching the activities of the athletes on the field. But 10's of thousands of people do not realize it or 99% plus or minus 3% points.
Arvid October 14, 2011 at 08:23 PM
jackoo: Even with a temporary insanity plea, which will be a tough sell given the pre-meditated nature of the crime, the suspect, if proven guilty will most likely spend life in a mental hospital. If you can point to a proxy wherein a premeditated mass murder of say, more than 5 people, where a convicted suspect walked in 5 years, please do share it. The point about cameras is actually quite funny. If you talk to anyone in the camera manufacturing business, you will find that most people DO know that they don't need a flash to illuminate a lit field, but in fact, most people simple don't take their cameras off of the automatic flash-enabled settings. So, despite the fact that your numbers are simply fabricated (illustrating that you actually know little about probability), your premise is wrong was well. Through your comments, it seems that you are using this tragedy to explain that 1.) The decision making process of this killer was complex, and 2.) The justice system is corrupt. No-one could dispute either point, but there is an entire industry focused on understanding these behavioral problems and it's highly unlikely that the perpetrator in such an unambiguous and heinous crime will get much flexibility in the justice system. Which is to say that these points are valid, they simply aren't relevant.
Ken Camp October 14, 2011 at 10:31 PM
I think this is a very apropriate place to discuss this. The tea bagger movement is comprised mostly of mentally ill, unstable, gun-toting individuals who blame government for all of their problems and bad life choices. If anybody thinks this is not the proper venue to discuss this, or if anybody wants to stand up for the Tea Party, then perhaps all of this just backfired and blew up in your face. You ever heard of "Second Amendment solutions"? Or should we all grieve in as shallow a maner as possible so everyone can feel good? (By the way, I thought last night's shrine, especially the mylar balloons, as tasteless, trivializing the deaths.)
John Stanton October 15, 2011 at 12:11 AM
This is such an incredible tragedy. There's absolutely no excuse for anyone to even think to kill so many people - let alone actually do it! I feel for all the friends and family members of the victims. We're all in shock.
Anita Coyoli Cullen October 15, 2011 at 12:25 AM
John - Scott has been shown in court smiling to the cameras, why??? The news says that Michelle stated in her paper work to the court that Scott was Bi-Polar, and did not always take his meds. I don't know if Scott is crazy or not, but what he did is. He already had more custody than he did. None of these other people were responsible for anything that Michelle said or did to Scott. None of them should have suffered. Michelle should not have suffered for that matter. Now his son has to suffer knowing that daddy killed mommy, and that daddy killed all those people. It is so very sad for everyone touched by this event.
Arvid October 15, 2011 at 12:34 AM
John: Well said. Thank you for returning this comment thread to the appropriate focus. We have all been impacted by this tragedy. Our thoughts should be with the victims, their families and friends.
Edgar October 15, 2011 at 04:42 AM
After reading about 100 different emails on this topic, I am of the opinion there are a lot more ailing people out there who are writing irrelevant subject matter about this tragic event. These people died at the hands of a very psychologically ill person. What does politics, inexpert prattle, twisted viewpoints, detestation have to do with this? Please let these poor soles rest in peace , and quit this drivel and inappropriate use of this event to vent political, one sided agendas, good grief what has our society become and the constant coverage by the maudlin media. Keep all the good memories of these who lost their lives and go forward taking them with you.


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