Every hair-dressing station was full at Salon Meritage when a gunman burst through the door and began shooting, sending terrified customers diving for cover in the upscale salon tucked just blocks from the beach in this quaint seaside town. The shooter then stepped outside, shot a man sitting in a truck in the parking lot and sped off.
By the time it was all over Wednesday, eight people were dead and another in critical condition in one of the deadliest shooting rampages in Orange County and the most violent crime in memory in Seal Beach, a town so calm the police spokesman couldn't even recall when the last homicide occurred when asked.
"There was like a 'pop pop' ... and my receptionist screamed out, 'He just shot that man' and we all went into the bathroom and called 911," said Kimberly Criswell, who owns a salon two doors away and knew many hairstylists at Salon Meritage. "I'm sure I've lost some friends today."
Police arrested 42-year-old Scott Dekraai about a half-mile from the scene but did not release a motive or any other details.
In all, one man and five women died at the salon, one man and one woman died after being transported to a nearby hospital, and one woman remained in critical condition. Their names have not been released.
Friends of the salon owner and other employees said Dekraai was the ex-husband of a stylist who worked there. One of the licensed cosmetologists at the salon was listed as Michelle Dekraai. Bowles would only say, "There may be something to the motive as to a relationship with somebody in the salon, that is our assumption." He declined to elaborate later.
Glenn Zachman, who owns a video news-gathering service, said he arrived at the scene of the arrest shortly after police and saw they had placed plastic bags over the man's hands to preserve possible gunshot residue. He also saw a bulletproof vest on the back of a patrol car but didn't know if the man, dressed in a button-down shirt and pants, had been wearing it.
The man, in handcuffs, was placed in a patrol car and taken away about two-and-a-half hours after the shooting. A new white pickup truck that was believed to be his was parked on the modest residential street with its doors open.
The man was cooperative when officers, working from a description of the shooter, stopped him near the salon, Bowles said.
Shortly after he was arrested, police arrived at a house on Melody Lane in nearby Huntington Beach and escorted two women to a white car and then roped off the house with crime scene tape. The house is registered to Scott Dekraai.
Kari Salveson of Los Alamitos, who attended a service for the victims at SeaCoast Grace Church in Seal Beach, said she had known Michelle Dekraai for more than 10 years and was aware that she and her ex-husband were involved in a bitter custody dispute over their son.
She said Michelle Dekraai made her every visit to the salon special.
"She could gab away. She was one of those girlfriends you could never get enough of. She made you smile and she made you laugh," Salveson said.
Salveson said she also knew the salon owner through his step-daughter and knew a nail specialist at the salon who she believed was among the victims.
"The camaraderie between all of them, it almost seemed like they were a family of their own," she said of the salon employees.
In Huntington Beach, people were shocked to learn that one of the friendliest men in the neighborhood had been arrested for the shootings.
Dekraai's neighbors described him as an outgoing man who invited them over for pool parties at the house he'd lived in for about six years. They said he doted on his son, playing catch with the boy in his yard.
Neighbors said they were aware Dekraai was in a custody battle with his ex-wife over their son, who neighbors said is 7 or 8 years old.
"It was a very difficult battle and he was trying to get more time" with his son, said Jo Cornhall, who lives across the street from Dekraai.
Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, last saw Dekraai on Tuesday morning as she was leaving for work. She was shocked when she saw the photo of the stocky man with thinning hair being detained by Seal Beach police.
"I'm like, no, not this neighbor, no way, he's the nicest guy ever," Malchow said.
Dekraai married his current wife two or three years ago in his backyard, said Malchow, who attended the wedding.
"He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son," she said.
Dekraai walked with a limp after a tug boat accident that killed a fellow tug boat operator about two miles off the coast in 2007. Cornhall said he uses a brace for his leg.
Police responding to the shooting found six people dead inside the salon, an upscale business with a tannish-yellow awnings and latticework on the window panes. Two other victims died within hours at the hospital, Bowles said.
Victims were scattered throughout the salon, Bowles said, and the ninth victim was found outside.
Police were still trying to determine the sequence of events inside the shop. They wouldn't say what type of weapon was used or if the gunman used more than one.
"We're unsure at this point if he shot from the entrance and people, as they were shot, ran in seeking cover or seeking shelter, but we have fatalities throughout the salon," Bowles told reporters at a news conference outside the business.
Lydia Sosa, a hairstylist who left two years ago to work at a new business with her friend, said the gunman's ex-wife was a stylist at Salon Meritage and spoke often of her relationship problems.
"They had been having bitter problems for years and I guess he just went in there and started shooting," said Sosa, who remained close with the salon's owner, Randy Fannin, after her departure. So did Sosa's business partner, Tammy Hetzel, who said the couple's problems were well-known among employees.
Cindy Spinosa, 51, who works at a nearby business, said she heard a siren around the time of the shooting.
"After that one of my co-workers got a phone call from her nephew," Spinosa said. "He was outdoors when the suspect got into his truck and took off."
Seal Beach has seen just one other homicide in the past four years, and Bowles said Wednesday's killings were the greatest tragedy to ever strike the seaside town.
The downtown is dotted with salons, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques clustered just blocks from a beach and pier popular with teenagers and young families. Many residents live and work within walking distance of the ocean and many businesses cater to Leisure World, a gated retirement community a few miles away that is home to 9,000 people.
"It's like Mayberry in the middle of Los Angeles," said Doyle Surratt, lead pastor of SeaCoast Grace Church. "We're small and all the kids go to school together."