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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Custody Battle and Its Victims

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Neighbors of a house searched late Wednesday in connection with the deadliest shooting in Orange County history said one thing stood out about the man who lives there: His total devotion to his son.

Police identified Scott Dekraai as their suspect in the midday shooting at a Seal Beach beauty salon that left eight people dead; he was being held on suspicion of murder. Court records show he has been fighting his ex-wife – who colleagues said worked at the salon – for custody of their son since 2007.

They were in court together Tuesday, the day before the shooting, for a routine hearing, records show. His ex-wife's attorney said Dekraai had been seeking full custody of their son, but a court-ordered report issued last week had recommended against that.

"His demeanor was always very controlled, almost serene," attorney John Cate Jr. said. "In my dealings with him, I never saw him get upset, get agitated." He described Dekraai as "monotone."

Cate said he believes his client was one of the first killed in the mass shooting at Salon Meritage on a busy Wednesday afternoon. Police have not released a list of the victims, and the Register is not naming the ex-wife without official confirmation.

Dekraai, who turns 42 next week, had worked for some time as a tugboat operator. He badly injured his leg in 2007 when he rushed to help another crew member after a tow line snapped, according to a Register report at the time.

His next-door neighbor, Stephanie Machow, 29, said he sometimes grumbled about his ex-wife, saying their divorce case began shortly after his leg injury. Machow waved to him Wednesday morning as she left for work, and assumed he was returning home after dropping off his son at school.

"Never could I imagine him doing this," she said. "I thought he was the nicest guy ever. ... The only reason I could imagine him flipping out is because of some kind of argument over his son. He was everything to Scott."

Several neighbors identified a photo of the suspect as the man they knew as Scott.

Dekraai lived in a single-story gray house on Melody Lane in Huntington Beach, which police blocked off with yellow tape Wednesday evening. Neighbors said they often saw Scott walking his white Lab or playing baseball with his son.

Jake Rennison, 17, said Scott once asked him to teach his son to skateboard. Jake said he taught the boy how to kick flip. "He was totally devoted to his son. Totally," Jake said. "I can't believe this happened. The only thing I can imagine is with the custody battle. His son was his life."

Dekraai married the woman who is now his ex-wife in Clark County, Nev., in early 2003, records show. He filed for divorce in Los Angeles County in 2007, a month after his tugboat accident, court records show.

His attorney at the time, Don Eisenberg, said Dekraai gave him "no reason to suspect a thing." Another attorney has since taken the case, and Eisenberg said he hasn't heard from Dekraai since 2009.

"I know they had a difficult relationship," he said of Dekraai and his ex-wife. "But that's nothing that would foreshadow a tragedy life this."

–Register staff writer Ron Campbell contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving@ocregister.com


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