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Eight people were killed in a salon massacre on Wednesday afternoon, and a ninth victim is fighting for her life.
The identities of the victims have not been officially released but in this tight-knit community, word is spreading quickly.
Authorities responded to Salon Meritage on the 500 block of Pacific Coast Highway at 1:21 p.m. Six victims were declared dead at the scene. Two others died at a hospital.
"By far, this is the greatest tragedy that Seal Beach has ever experienced," said Sgt. Steve Bowles of the /*Seal Beach Police Department*/. "There will be some grieving time for us, but our mission at this point in time is...make sure we get a successful prosecution on this subject for the deaths that occurred...as well as to really comfort the families of the victims."
The ninth vicitm in critical condition was identified by friends and neighbors as 73-year-old Hattie Stretz.
Stretz's neighbor told Eyewitness News that she and her husband had just returned from a month-long trip from Hawaii. The two have been married for quite some time and frequently travel but call Los Alamitos their home.
Stretz was getting her hair cut at the time of the shooting. According to unconfirmed reports, Stretz's daughter was the one cutting her hair and was reportedly among the victims who were killed.
"They're such sweet people. We talk to them all the time. We say hello. They're just beautiful people, and they're going to be in our prayers," said neighbor Denise Ramirez.
The suspect, 42-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai of Huntington Beach, was arrested about a half-mile from the scene as he was driving his white Toyota Tundra. Witnesses said Dekraai told police he had a knife in each pocket and three weapons in his truck.
During the arrest, officers opened up Dekraai's button-down shirt and found that he was wearing body armor, according to witnesses.
The salon was packed at the time of the shooting, but some people were able to make it out OK.
"Much of it was luck for many people. Some hid and some left, obviously ran out of one of the exits. We were able to secure a number of witnesses who were in the salon at the time, and we're pursuing those witnesses and their vital information for the prosecution," said Bowles.
Seal Beach resident Debbie Mendoza learned Thursday morning that her neighbor and good friend was one of the victims killed in the shooting rampage.
"That's what I think everybody in our community is trying to cope with is the 'why,'" said Mendoza.
Grieving community members dropped off a steady stream of flowers, cards and stuffed animals throughout the day. A candlelight vigil will be held for the victims at the salon Thursday night.
Authorities are still trying to determine a motive, but some witnesses told /*Eyewitness News*/ that Dekraai and his ex-wife, salon employee Michelle Dekraai, were involved in a custody battle over their 7-year-old son.
"She was a good mom. She was in a terrible situation, that's all," said Michelle Dekraai's friend, Susan Davenport.
Davenport was too distraught to say anything else after finding out that her friend was likely the intended target and was killed.
"I can't stop crying. I barely slept last night," said Mary Sterns, who know Randy Fanin, the owner of Salon Meritage.
"He was just the greatest guy you'd ever want to meet," Sterns said, adding that when she heard what happened on the news, she instinctively knew Fanin had been one of the victims.
"I knew that he would have been one of them, because I knew he would try to do something, and I heard that he did," Sterns said.
Friends say Fanin began his business 20 years ago and designed the entire salon.
Eyewitness News spoke with a nearby business owner who ran into the salon shortly after the shooting. He described the scene as gruesome and said five people had locked themselves into back rooms in the salon to avoid being shot.
That business owner also said he saw Fanin on the ground near the salon's entrance with his wife at his side trying to administer CPR, but unfortunately, she was not successful.
Neighbors still can't believe that Dekraii, a person they viewed as a nice guy, would go on a deadly shooting spree.
"I'm still in shock. I cannot believe it. He's the nicest guy. He's super-nice. My daughter loves him. He's just the most caring neighbor," said Stephanie Malchow.
Dekraai had moved to his Huntington Beach home three years ago with his son. His neighbors said they were aware that his first marriage ended badly, but they thought he was happily building a new life.
"I've never even heard him speak really bad about the ex-wife. I mean, when it'd come up, I guess he would just kind of say he didn't feel like she was a nice person," said Malchow.
Dekraai and his ex-wife divorced in 2007, a month after a tugboat accident in which Dekraai's leg was severely injured, causing him to walk with a limp.
Neighbors are concerned about the impact of the tragedy on Dekraai's son.
"My heart really goes out to Dominic, his son. Because he's a cute little boy, and I'm just thinking, I don't know what's going to happen to Dominic from this point forward," said Rivera.
According to court documents obtained by Eyewitness News, Dekraai's ex-wife described him as physically abusive and unstable during their marriage.
Additional court documents also show that Dekraii had a restraining order against him that was filed by his stepfather.