Bruce Pardo's ambitions rarely panned out quite as he envisioned.
He lost his electrical engineering job. His marriage ended after two years. Even his planned getaway to Canada after a murderous rampage at his former in-laws' house ended instead in his suicide after he badly burned himself while torching the house.
The 45-year-old Pardo, accused of killing nine people and injuring three others, wasn't well-known by neighbors, who described him as a quiet man. Friends said he volunteered as a church usher.
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But on Christmas Eve, police said he wreaked unimaginable havoc when he showed up at a party at his ex-wife's parents' home dressed as Santa Claus, leaving behind charred corpses and endless questions.
"It's a shock to everybody that knew him," said Jan Detanna, head usher at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose, where Pardo volunteered. "You just don't know what's going on sometimes."
Some described Pardo as a big man with a firm handshake who seemed upbeat and doted on a big, brown Akita he owned with his former wife.
Police said Friday that Pardo ditched his plan to flee to Canada after suffering burns in the attack on the home in Covina, 25 miles east of Los Angeles. He was later found dead, a plane ticket and cash strapped to his body, and parts of his Santa costume fused to his skin.
Officials also released a 911 call filled with frantic appeals for help. "My mom's house is on fire!" said a caller phoning from a neighbor's house. "He's still shooting at them!"
Emerging details indicated Pardo devised an extensive plan to destroy his ex-wife's family after a costly divorce that was finalized last week, just months after losing his aerospace job.
No bodies were identified because of charring, but police Lt. Tim Doonan said all were Pardo's former relatives. He declined to say whether his ex-wife and her parents were among them, but said they were unaccounted for.
The victims were believed to range in age from 17 to 80. Police Chief Kim Raney said "he stood over them and shot them execution-style."
Armed with four guns, wearing the Santa suit and carrying a fuel-spraying device wrapped like a present, Pardo showed up at the home at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday as a party of about 25 people was under way.
Raney said Pardo fired a shot into the face of an 8-year-old girl who answered the door and at first fired indiscriminately, then apparently targeted relatives of his ex-wife as other guests fled. The girl survived.
Pardo retreated to the front door and retrieved a device that mixed carbon dioxide or oxygen with high-octane racing fuel. Fleeing guests saw him spraying the fuel inside the house when the vapor was ignited, possibly by a pilot light or a candle, and exploded.
"Mr. Pardo was severely injured during that explosion," Raney said. "He suffered third-degree burns on both arms and it also appears that the Santa Claus suit that he was wearing did melt onto his body."
Pardo then drove to his brother's home in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles, broke in and shot himself in the head. His brother discovered the body early Thursday. Pardo had an airline ticket for a Christmas morning flight to Canada and $17,000 in cash on his body, some attached to his legs with Saran Wrap and some in a girdle, the chief said.
Before the suicide, Pardo used remnants of the Santa suit to booby-trap his rental car to explode, the chief said.
Raney said Pardo wired the suit so when it was lifted it "would pull a trip wire or a switch, ignite a flare inside the car that would then ignite black powder and he had several hundred rounds of handgun ammunition inside the car."
The device went off as a bomb squad worked to disarm it Thursday but no one was hurt.
A search of Pardo's own home in Montrose, a suburb northeast of Los Angeles, turned up racing fuel, five empty boxes for high-powered semi-automatic handguns and two high-powered shotguns.
The police chief said Raney had no military experience, and in a resume he claimed to have a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering.
Court records show Pardo's ex-wife, Sylvia Pardo, 43, filed for a dissolution of marriage on March 24, 2008, and they were legally separated after about two years of marriage. The two reached a settlement on Dec. 18.
Bruce Pardo owed her $10,000 as part of the settlement, according to court documents that detailed a bitter split. He also lost a dog he doted upon and did not get back a valuable wedding ring.
"No counseling or delay could help restore this marriage," the settlement stated. "There are irreconcilable differences which have led to the complete breakdown of the marriage."
The couple had no children together, but Bruce Pardo had a son from a previous relationship who had "some challenges," Raney said without elaboration. "I'm not sure he was supporting the child but he does have at least one child," he said.