A 26-year-old man suspected of killing four people and injuring two others during a shooting rampage in the San Fernando Valley made his first court appearance Monday, where he pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.
Gerry Dean Zaragoza of Canoga Park is charged with four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and a count of attempted robbery, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Zaragoza could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, prosecutors said.
A decision on whether to seek capital punishment will be made at a later time, according to a news release from the DA’s office.
Zaragoza is accused of fatally shooting his father and brother, a woman he knew and a stranger on a bus over a 12-hour period last Thursday. The series of crimes prompted a valley-wide tactical alert.
The ordeal began around 2 a.m. in Canoga Park, where Zaragoza allegedly opened fire at his family’s residence at the Roscoe Boulevard Apartments, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
His father and brother — identified as 56-year-old Carlos Ignacio Zaragoza and 33-year-old Carlos Pierre Zaragoza — died in the shooting; the suspect’s mother, Blanca Zaragoza, was hospitalized.
Then, around 2:45 a.m., Gerry Zaragoza allegedly shot and killed 45-year-old Azucena “Susie” Lepe and wounded an unidentified man at a Shell station in North Hollywood.
Lepe, a mother of four children, worked at the gas station, according to her family. The victim’s brother, Cuco Lepe, said Zaragoza was obsessed with his sister and had been harassing her for more than a year.
He added the two never had a relationship.
The string of crimes apparently turned random around 7:20 a.m., when Zaragoza tried to rob a man outside a Bank of America in Canoga Park, according to LAPD.
The man, who had no prior connection to the suspect, was not injured.
Hours later, authorities say the suspect shot 55-year-old Detwonia Lamond Harris of Reseda on an Orange Line bus in Van Nuys.
Harris was getting off the bus in the area of Woodley Avenue and Victory Boulevard around 12:50 p.m. when he was killed in an apparently unprovoked attack, according to investigators. Zaragoza and Harris never exchanged words, LAPD Capt. William Hayes told the Los Angeles Times.
Around 2 p.m., Zaragoza was apprehended in Canoga Park after being spotted by a plain-clothed officer near Canoga Avenue and Gault Street. A Taser was used to subdue him, the Times reported.
The suspect was then transported to a hospital.
Authorities have not yet released a motive for the series of crimes.