Suspected gunman in series of Valley shootings due in court

The man who allegedly went on a killing spree in the San Fernando Valley last week -- gunning down his father, brother, a woman he knew and a total stranger on a bus -- is scheduled to make his initial court appearance Monday.

Gerry Dean Zaragoza, 26, who has been held without bail at the Van Nuys Jail since his arrest Thursday, is scheduled to appear Monday morning at the Van Nuys municipal Court at 14400 Erwin Street Mall.

Zaragoza, who is unemployed and described by family members as being violent and having a history of drug use, is accused of killing his 56-year-old father, Carlos I. Zaragoza, and his 33-year-old brother, Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, in a Canoga Park apartment, and 45-year-old Azucena Lepe -- who
relatives say was known as Susie -- at a North Hollywood Shell gas station. He and Lepe knew each other.

Zaragoza is also suspected in an attempted robbery outside a bank in Canoga Park and the fatal shooting of a man aboard an Orange Line bus in Van Nuys.

The first shooting occurred at 1:50 a.m. Thursday at an apartment in the 21000 block of Roscoe Boulevard, near DeSoto Avenue, police said.

Paramedics pronounced Zaragoza's father and brother dead at the scene Thursday and took his mother, a woman in her 50s, to a hospital in stable condition, according to police. She was shot in an arm.

The man killed on the bus has been identified as 55-year-old Detwonia Harris of Reseda.

At the gas station in North Hollywood, Zaragoza allegedly shot and critically wounded a man who worked there, cleaning the gas station at night.

The two allegedly did not know each other. Police said Zaragoza was acquainted with the woman. Some of Lepe's relatives on Friday disputed initial reports that she was his ex-girlfriend, although her sister reported the pair dated briefly until she broke off the relationship -- after which Zaragoza became
obsessed with her and continued to harass her.

Relatives said Lepe was a mother of four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18.

Michael Ramia, who was Carlos I. Zaragoza's boss, told reporters the suspect was described by his father as "very violent."

"He told me (Gerry Zaragoza) was violent in the house. He was very violent," Ramia told reporters outside the Canoga Park apartment. "And I told Carlos, I said, `Carlos, get rid of him, you know? Just take him to rehab."

Ramia said Gerry Zaragoza had a history of drug problems and was unemployed.

A GoFundMe page for the Zaragoza family has been set up.

About 7:20 a.m. Thursday, an attempted robbery believed to have been committed by Zaragoza occurred outside a bank at Sherman Way and Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Canoga Park, police said. The suspect allegedly pulled a handgun on a man about 40 years old, but he fled when he realized the victim had no money, police said.

At about 1:50 p.m., Harris was fatally shot aboard an Orange Line bus at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, and a suspect generally matching the description of Zaragoza was seen running from the scene.

"He didn't even talk to his last victim," LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes, commander of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "He's getting off the bus and he turns and shoots the person. It doesn't look like there was any interaction between them."

Los Angeles police responded in force, setting up a perimeter that stretched from Woodley to Haskell Avenue, between Victory and Vanowen Street.

Officers were stationed at every intersection along the perimeter with orders to search every vehicle exiting the area.

The LAPD declared a tactical alert -- it allows commanders to keep officers working beyond the end of their shifts -- for its entire Valley Bureau as the search continued and about 2 p.m. Zaragoza was spotted in Canoga Park, about seven miles from the location of the bus shooting.
He was taken into custody after "a small use of force" near the intersection of Canoga Avenue and Gault Street, according to Hayes.

The suspect was placed into an ambulance and taken to a hospital to be
checked out.

CNS contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 27, 2019.