Investigators on Thursday were piecing together how five victims of a mass shooting in Bakersfield are connected.
The shooting Wednesday night is being viewed as a case of domestic violence, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a news conference Thursday.
“It appears to me to be very calculated,” Youngblood said.
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The rampage lasting approximately 40 minutes started when the shooter, 54-year-old Javier Casarez, took his ex-wife to T&T Trucking, Inc., on Manwell Boulevard near the Highway 58/184 interchange. There, Casarez confronted, shot and killed 50-year-old Manuel Contreras and Casarez’s ex-wife, according to the sheriff.
Youngblood identified Casarez’s former wife as 45-year-old Petra Maribel Bolanos De Casarez.
Court documents show their divorce was finalized in April.
Bolanos recently filed for a change involving child support and custody over the couple’s two teenage children, and the pair had a hearing set for Oct. 11, court records show. Youngblood said it’s not known if that was the catalyst for the violence, but he said it carries the implications of domestic violence.
Authorities are still investigating how the other victims were involved, but it appears that Casarez targeted every one of them, Youngblood said.
“It appears to be there’s more than just husband and wife having a fight because other people were targeted,” the sheriff said. “There’s a reason for that and we need to find that reason.”
After the first two shootings, Casarez pursued a third victim from the scene, 50-year-old Antonio Valadez. Casarez fired at Valadez as he ran away, then tracked him down in his car and killed him, the sheriff said. Valadez may have witnessed the initial shootings.
Casarez then drove to the house of 57-year-old Eliseo Garcia Cazares, whom Youngblood identified as a friend. Casarez fatally shot Garcia and his daughter, 31-year-old Laura Garcia, who may have been shot only because she was present when Casarez confronted her father.
“She may have tried to intervene to keep the suspect from approaching her father, and he shot and killed both of them,” Youngblood said.
Javier Casarez then carjacked a woman driving with her child. The woman and child escaped.
After the carjacking, Casarez told the woman “he wasn’t a bad guy,” Youngblood said.
Casarez drove to a friend’s business where a deputy confronted Casarez after seeing him on the highway and following him. Casarez then turned the gun (a .50-caliber handgun) on himself.
The deputy’s body camera video shows the deputy repeatedly ordering Casarez to drop his weapon and Casarez can be heard saying, “I don’t want to do nothing to you guys” before he shot himself.
The .50 caliber was a Smith & Wesson 500 — “one of the largest handguns ever made,” Youngblood said. It can fire only five rounds, so he had to reload the gun, the sheriff said.
From the first to last shot fired, just 37 minutes passed.
About 30 people saw the shootings and were being interviewed by deputies, Youngblood said.
He said investigators are looking into whether Casarez’s ex-wife may have had relationships with Contreras or Valadez.
Youngblood said Casarez was a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and that it wasn’t immediately known whether he legally owned the gun he used in the shootings or whether he had a criminal record.
Youngblood called the shootings devastating for Bakersfield, especially for Laura Garcia’s four children, who may have witnessed their mother’s death.
“These young children, when they see this, that’s something that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” Youngblood said. “But officers ... they’re also not immune to those emotions. Those cases stay with them their entire career, so this has a far-reaching impact on a lot of people in our community and in our department.”
Youngblood said this rampage could serve as a lesson for people who are victims of domestic violence: “Don’t wait — make that call,” he said. “Secure yourself.”
Many homicides are drug related but many are domestic violence related and sometimes both, he said.
“We do everything we can when it comes to domestic violence but at the end of the day, it’s personal choice what you do, what you report and how you respond,” Youngblood said.
Matt Marion of Bakersfield is a truck refrigeration mechanic who works at a business across the street from where the first two homicides happened.
He said he and about five other employees were at the shop after closing time and suddenly heard three very loud gunshots.
“We didn’t think much about it,” he said.
Then they heard more shots.
“It was loud,” he said.
They stepped outside to see what was going on and saw a man running down the street.
“A man was yelling ‘call the police, call the police,’” Marion said.
“You could see people scattering,” he said.
Then a white Altima drove out of the trucking company driveway. A short time later, the employees heard two more gunshots and soon after, sirens. They learned that the third victim who had run away was shot and killed just around the corner from the trucking company and near the refrigeration business.
“It was pretty intense,” Marion said.