Holiday Horror: The Covina Christmas Murders of 2008

December 24, 2008. All over the nation, parents are dressing up as Santa Claus, donning the red suit to amaze their children with the prospect of a wonderful Christmas morning. When I was a kid, family members would call and pretend to be Saint Nick to get me excited for the next day. Still happens, I suppose, all across the country, and even the Federal Aviation Administration even gets in on the action, posting a Santa Watch every year for captive youngsters.

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The same thing happens in a suburb of Los Angeles called Covina, California, only with very deadly consequences. This is a story of violence so personal and so without conscience, discretion is heavily advised.

At 11:30 PM local time, a man walks into the home of his in-laws dressed as Santa Claus. That man is 45-year-old Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, and he is visiting his family for Christmas. Only, instead of unloading a bag of presents for everyone, Pardo unveils a gift-wrapped, homemade flamethrower. He draws a semi-automatic 9mm pistol — he also has three others on his person — and fires into the face of his ex-wife’s eight-year-old niece as she runs to greet him at the door.

Bruce Pardo

As the first rounds echo through the house, the group of 25 people flee, but many of them are not lucky enough to get out. Pardo fires into the group and (authorities think) kills as many of them, execution-style, as he can. When Pardo is done firing into the group of partygoers, he uses the homemade flamethrower to soak the home in racing fuel before setting the home ablaze.

Nine of the 25 people in the house would perish from either gunfire or the resulting flames. Three others would be wounded. A 16-year-old girl was shot in the back, and a 20-year-old broke her ankle leaping from a second story window.

The eight-year-old, as fate would have it, survives. It is both a horrific curse and a perverse blessing that she lives. While she has the rest of her life ahead of her, she is going to be confronted with the reality of being shot in the face by the symbol of the season every December 25 from now on.

Once Pardo finishes his rampage, he shucks the Santa suit and leaves the residence in his street clothes. He drives his rented car thirty miles away, to neighboring Sylmar, California, where Pardo’s brother lives.

Christmas Murder

There is some confusion at this point about what, exactly, Pardo’s plan turned out to be. It is believed he contemplated fleeing to Canada. Police find $17,000 cling-wrapped to his legs and a plane ticket in his name. However, despite flying with Air Canada, the itinerary stated he would be traveling to Illinois, where a high school friend he had visited in October of that year lived.

The complicating factor are the burns Pardo sustained while setting the resident site of the massacre ablaze. He purportedly suffers third degree burns on his arms, and it is rumored that some of the Santa suit melted onto hi flesh, which would make a flight just about anywhere an unlikely, painful scenario.

None of these details about Pardo’s intentions can be known, because Pardo decides to take his own life in the wake of this tragedy. Using a gun from the attacks, he places the barrel against his temple and pulls the trigger.

The horror doesn’t end there. In his home, police find the following: five empty boxes for semiautomatic handguns, two shotguns, and a container for high-octane fuel. According to reports, they also found “a virtual bomb factory,” and one can only wonder what sort of carnage he might have been capable of inflicting had he taken all of that with him.

Christmas Massacre

Back at the in-laws’ home, the fire rages on. It takes 80 firefighters nearly 90 minutes to put out the fire. The bodies inside the Ortega home — Ortega was Sylvia Pardo’s maiden name — are so badly burned, they must be identified using dental or medical records. As if to punctuate the horrible affair, the day after, a pipe bomb explodes in the car rented by Bruce Pardo outside the home where he had committed suicide. He had rigged a Santa suit to explode if taken from the car’s backseat.

The final death toll related to Pardo’s rampage is nine, including Pardo’s ex-wife, both of her parents, two of her brothers, their wives, and one of the nephews.

It’s the sort of event that can devastate not just a family but the surrounding community. Every day is sacred, if you value life, but the holidays stand for something, even if you’re not religious. If you’re like me, and church is but a distant memory of childhood, the Christmas season represents a kind of renewal of your faith in humanity, a time to reflect on your successes and failures so that you can attempt to change and influence the world in some positive way. To be more forgiving of others and hope they might, too, forgive you.

To do something so vile during this season begs the question: why in the hell someone would perpetrate such a barbaric, inhuman act like this? Well, the answer is probably one you’ve been able to ferret out by now. Bruce Pardo and his wife had been going through some trying times in their marriage, and Pardo’s divorce with his wife, Sylvia, was finalized on December 18, roughly one week before the attack. Reasons get even more specific, though, in the ensuing investigation. The problem, as it turns out, night not have been scorned love, after all, but money. Pardo had made the comment that Sylvia was “taking him to the cleaners” in the wake of their divorce, and so it might have been his wrath over the financial repercussions of their divorce that drove him to commit this heinous crime, rather than his passion for their lives together.

Santa Claus Killer

Is it better? No. Does it cast a reflection upon most people’s feelings over the season? Hell yes. Most people I know find Christmas to be a season driven by money, rather than giving, family, community, or the like. So, yeah, it might seem that this is a horribly sardonic end to an even more unsettling crime.

Here is a news report from the wake of the shooting:

Bruce Pardo Kills 8 in Covina:

This is not new. A simple Google search reveals this happening days and weeks and months ago, so these incidents are not isolated. But on Christmas? It is unspeakable, though not rare, and so it is with this heaviness on my mind that I come away from this hoping that you all have a wonderful holiday, that you think not just of the people you love and admire this holiday season, but those you might disagree with. Those you might have hoped to forget about for the weeks leading up to 2016’s end. Now is the time to make the rest of this year what you can, and what you will.

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