LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two people were killed and three injured in predawn shootings Monday at four 7-Eleven stores in Southern California and authorities said they were looking for a lone gunman in at least three of the shootings.
The shootings appear to have occurred after robberies or attempted robberies at the four convenience stores on July 11 or 7/11 — a day when the national brand 7-Eleven is celebrating its 95th anniversary by handing out free Slurpee drinks.
“Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones,” said 7-Eleven, Inc. in a statement. “We are collecting information about this terrible tragedy and working with the local police.”
It was not immediately clear to investigators what prompted the shootings in the cities of Riverside, Santa Ana, Brea and La Habra, or why the violence occurred on July 11.
“I think the only person who can answer that would be the suspect,” said Officer Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the Riverside Police Department, where the first shooting happened at about 1:50 a.m. being 7-Eleven, July 11.”
The Riverside shooting left the victim in serious condition, and while that shooting was not officially associated with the others, Railsback said, “they are all very, very similar.”
Things seemed strange, Railsback said, because criminals typically know that convenience store robberies rarely yield large amounts of money, especially during the night hours.
“If you go to a liquor store or a 7-Eleven or a fast food restaurant, you don’t get a lot of money out of it,” he said. “It’s a little strange that they would do this.”
In the Riverside case, the gunman robbed the clerk and brandished a pistol, then aimed the weapon at a customer, opened fire and fled, Railsback said. Police believe the clerk handed over money from the till.
“It doesn’t look like the suspect shot the customer,” Railsback said. “It sounds like the clerk gave him everything he asked for.”
The second shooting happened around 3:20 a.m., about 39 kilometers away, in Santa Ana, authorities said.
Officers responding to the report of gunfire at a 7-Eleven in that city found a man dead in the parking lot with a gunshot wound to his upper body, according to Sgt. Maria Lopez, a Santa Ana police spokesman. The violence turned out to be a robbery.
“Right now we don’t think he was an employee. We don’t really know yet what he was doing in a parking lot, whether he was a potential customer or just walking by,” Lopez said.
Surveillance video shows the suspect dropping items — believed to be the victim’s belongings — as he fled, Lopez said.
Lopez said detectives believe the suspect in the Santa Ana murder is the same individual who then traveled 12 miles (19.31 kilometers) to Brea, where a 7-Eleven employee was found dead from a gunshot wound at about 4:18 a.m.
Brea Police Capt. Phil Rodriguez said officers responded to a report of a man with a gunshot wound and found the worker injured. He was later pronounced dead.
“This appears to be a robbery turned into a murder,” Rodriguez said.
surveillance photos, posted on social media by Brea . police, shows a masked man wearing a black sweatshirt with a hood over his head. The sweatshirt had white lettering with green leaves on the front.
Police declined to say what, if any, had been stolen from the Brea store or the victim – only reiterating that the incident started as a robbery.
Less than an hour later, officers in neighboring La Habra were dispatched to a reported robbery of a 7-Eleven. They discovered two gunshot victims around 4:55 a.m., according to Sgt. Summer Bohee. The shooter had fled.
Authorities have not released the victims’ circumstances.
“We are convinced it is the same suspect,” Rodriguez said.