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Love triangle could be motive in Bakersfield shooting rampage, witness says

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 9/14/2018 Hannah Fry, Alene Tchekmedyian

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A gunman’s bloody rampage through Bakersfield may have been triggered by a love triangle involving the shooter, his estranged wife and a coworker, a stunned witness said Thursday.

As investigators attempt to reconstruct the violent sequence of events that left six people dead, including the gunman, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told reporters that the episode appeared to be part of a national trend.

“This is the new normal if you look across the country at these types of shootings,” Youngblood told reporters at a news conference.

The shootings occurred at multiple locations spanning roughly three miles beginning shortly before 5:20 p.m. Wednesday. That’s when the gunman, identified by authorities as Javier Casarez, 54, opened fire on his ex-wife, Petra Maribel Bolaños De Casarez, 45, and Manuel Contreras, 50, inside the T&T Trucking company on Manwell Boulevard and killed them both.

Moments later, another man, Antonio Valadez, 50, showed up at the business, and was chased by the gunman, who was armed with a .50-caliber Smith & Wesson 500 handgun — a weapon billed as the world’s most powerful revolver — authorities said.

Manny Meza, a driver at another trucking business just steps away, said he was at work Wednesday when he heard popping sounds outside. He thought the first shot might have been a tire blowout, but when he stepped outside to investigate he saw the gunman chasing a man and firing.

“He was shooting rounds at the man and chasing him in a circle,” Meza said. “It’s not something I thought I’d ever see. This is not normal.”

The gunman got in his car, followed Valadez to the nearby Bear Mountain Sports shop and fatally shot him, authorities said.

Meza said other employees told him that the gunman worked at T&T Trucking and suspected that De Casarez was having an affair with one of his coworkers.

About 15 minutes after the first shootings, authorities received a call that the gunman had showed up at a home in the 9400 block of Breckenridge Road and opened fire, killing Laura Garcia, 31, and her father, Eliseo Cazares, 57.

“We believe [Garcia] may have intervened to keep the suspect from approaching her father and he shot and killed both of them,” Youngblood said.

Minutes later, the gunman carjacked a woman who was driving with a child. Casarez told the woman he wasn’t a “bad person” and let her and the child out of the car before he drove to Edison Highway, where he was spotted by a deputy, officials said.

The shooter then pulled into the parking lot of an auto repair business that authorities said is owned by one of Casarez’s friends. When the deputy approached, he got out of the car and shot himself in the chest.

Relatives of victims stand outside the scene of the shooting that resulted in the deaths of six people in Bakersfield, California on September 12, 2018. - A man went on a shooting rampage in California, killing five people including his wife, before taking his own life. Police said the shooting in Bakersfield in central California was possibly 'a domestic violence incident.' (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images) © Getty Relatives of victims stand outside the scene of the shooting that resulted in the deaths of six people in Bakersfield, California on September 12, 2018. - A man went on a shooting rampage in California, killing five people including his wife, before taking his own life. Police said the shooting in Bakersfield in central California was possibly 'a domestic violence incident.' (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images) Body camera footage released by Kern County sheriff’s officials on Thursday showed the moments before Casarez fired the gun for the last time. A deputy, who also has a firearm drawn, yells, “Put the gun down!” four times before a final shot sounds and Casarez falls to the ground.

Authorities have yet to confirm a motive for the initial attack, but have characterized the incident as a “domestic violence tragedy.”

Divorce proceedings between the couple began last December and were ultimately finalized in April, according to Kern County Superior Court records. De Casarez had recently returned to court for a hearing to determine child support and division of property. The pair had three children — one adult and two minors. The older sibling is currently caring for the others, officials said.

Youngblood said authorities have not determined whether the court hearing was a catalyst for the shooting.

“Sometimes these domestic violence cases morph into something really bad and we want to find out how the other players fit into that domestic violence issue,” Youngblood said, adding that he suspects the gunman forced his ex-wife to go to the trucking company with him. “If you look at the time frame of when this occurred, from scene to scene to scene, it appears to me to be very calculated.”

A study published by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, said there were 296 murder-suicides nationwide that resulted in 663 deaths in the first six months of 2017. The situation most commonly occurs between two intimate partners with a man killing his wife or girlfriend, typically due to a breakdown in the relationship, according to the study.

The incident is now the third-deadliest shooting in the nation this year behind the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack in Florida, which left 17 people dead, and the Sante Fe High School shooting in Texas, which killed 10.

On Thursday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) expressed his and his wife’s sorrow over the shooting on Twitter.

“Judy and I are shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific loss of life in Bakersfield yesterday. Our entire community, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families,” he wrote.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @Hannahnfry

UPDATES:

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from law enforcement and court records.

12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the names of the suspect and the victims.

11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from a witness and law enforcement.

This article was originally published at 8:20 a.m.


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