GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — The man who killed four people and wounded two others in random stabbings across two Southern California cities is a gang member with a violent criminal record who had served time in prison, authorities said Thursday.
Zachary Castaneda “could have injured or killed many other people” had he not been arrested Wednesday while carrying out attacks and robberies during the two-hour wave of violence that began in Garden Grove, the city’s police Chief Tom DaRe said.
It wasn’t immediately known if Castaneda, 33, had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Castaneda was taken into custody when he walked out of a convenience store in the neighboring city of Santa Ana, dropping a knife and a gun he had taken from a security guard he had just killed, police said. The suspect was covered in blood, DaRe said.
Castaneda was kept in restraints as detectives tried to interview him, the chief said at a press conference.
“He remained violent with us through the night,” DaRe said. “He never told us why he did this.”
Castaneda has a conviction for possession of meth for sale while armed with an assault rifle, DaRe said. Investigators were still putting together his entire criminal history, he said. Officials didn’t specify what crimes sent Castaneda to prison or when he was released.
The violence appeared to be random and the only known motive seem to be “robbery, hate, homicide,” Garden Grove police Lt. Carl Whitney told reporters.
Whitney said police had previously gone to Castaneda’s Garden Grove apartment to deal with a child custody issue. The suspect’s mother had been living with him and had once asked police how she could evict her son, he said.
The attacker and four of the victims were described as Hispanic, while two victims were described as white, police said in a statement. Initially, all had been described as Hispanic. There was no indication this was a hate crime, DaRe said.
The two people who were wounded were expected to survive.
One of the dead was identified by his son as a hardworking immigrant originally from Romania.
Erwin Hauprich said in a telephone interview that his father, Helmuth Hauprich, 62, called him Wednesday afternoon and told him his Garden Grove apartment had been burglarized. The father said his passport, green card, sword collection and even a dining table were taken.
Erwin Hauprich said his father never called back and he went to check on him after hearing there had been a stabbing at the complex.
A police officer told him that Helmuth Hauprich had been taken to the hospital, where he died, the son said. He said he was told his father’s roommate was killed in the apartment.
A body was removed from the complex by stretcher Thursday.
Erwin Hauprich said his father left Romania first for Germany and then the United States more than two decades ago. He said his father worked on an assembly line and lived in the complex for years.
He said Helmuth Hauprich was a down-to-earth man who strove to make a life for his family.
Police said surveillance cameras caught some of the carnage.
“We have video showing him attacking these people and conducting these murders,” Whitney said.
Whitney said the man lived in a Garden Grove apartment building where he stabbed two men during some kind of confrontation. One man died inside and the other at a hospital.
Whitney said a bakery also was robbed.
The bakery owner, Dona Beltran, said she was sitting in her car charging her cellphone when she saw a tattooed man get out of a Mercedes and go inside the business. Beltran, 45, followed him inside to offer help, but kept quiet when she saw him trying to open the cash register.
She then ran out of the shop and yelled she was being robbed before taking refuge in a nearby dental office, she said. He ended up taking the entire register with him, which had about $200, she said.
“I saved myself because I was in the car,” she said in Spanish on Thursday. “Thank God I am alive.”
The man also robbed an insurance business, where a 54-year-old employee was stabbed several times and was expected to survive.
The woman “was very brave,” Whitney said. “She fought as best she could.”
An alarm company saw the robbery on a live television feed and called police.
The man fled with cash and also robbed a check-cashing business next door, the lieutenant said.
Afterward, the attacker drove up to a Chevron station, where he attacked a man pumping gas “for no reason,” Whitney said.
The man was stabbed in the back and “his nose was nearly severed off his face,” the lieutenant said.
Undercover detectives tracked the suspect’s silver Mercedes to the parking lot of the 7-Eleven in Santa Ana and within a minute the man emerged from the store, carrying a large knife and a gun that he had cut from the belt of a security guard after stabbing him, Whitney said.
Police ordered the man to drop his weapons and he complied and was arrested.
Police then learned that a male employee of a nearby Subway restaurant also had been fatally stabbed during a robbery, Whitney said.
The brutal and puzzling attack came just days after a pair of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio left 31 people dead and stunned the nation.
Associated Press reporters Robert Jablon, John Antczak and Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.