LOS ANGELES — Authorities in Southern California on Friday announced the arrest of two men suspected in shootings at 7-Eleven convenience stores in three counties that left two people dead and three others wounded.
Malik Patt, 20, and Jason Payne, 44, were arrested by the Orange County Violent Crime Task Force after a series of shootings that began about a week ago in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the Los Angeles Times reported. The two men, who are from Los Angeles, were arrested Friday at about 1:10 p.m. PDT, The Orange County Register reported.
Authorities described Patt as the primary suspect, according to the newspaper.
“This was a reign of terror,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at a news conference. “To be thinking that you go to a convenience store or a doughnut shop or a sandwich shop and to get shot in the face or call your loved one with your last gasps for breath.”
Matthew Hirsch, 40, a 7-Eleven clerk in Brea, was killed on Monday. Matthew Rule, 24, was fatally shot in the parking lot of a Santa Ana store.
Patt and Payne are prime suspects in 11 robberies and are expected to be charged Monday in Orange County with at least two murders under special circumstances that could result in the death penalty, the Times reported.
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Alan Hamilton said the two men are also suspected in the July shooting of a man in the North Hills area. They could be tied to other crimes, Hamilton told reporters.
“It has chilled our communities,” Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said during the news conference. “Because we know 7-Eleven is the quintessential convenience store. That is where our communities shop … We know we can’t undo the crimes that have been inflicted against the community, but this gives a sense, at least, of finality.”
The shootings began shortly after midnight on Monday when a man showed a handgun and demanded money, the Register reported. About 45 minutes later, a 7-Eleven in Upland was robbed, with the suspect taking approximately $500.
At about 1:50 a.m. PDT, a robber went to a 7-Eleven in Riverside and shot a customer in the head, according to the newspaper. Family members identified the victim as Jason Harrell, 46, according to the Register.
Harrell was breathing on his own and was no longer in a coma, his brother, David Makin. told KNBC-TV.
Rule was killed at about 3:25 a.m. in Santa Ana during an attempted robbery. Police said Rule was not the intended target and was shot when he intervened to help the person who was being robbed, the Register reported.
Less than an hour later, Hirsch was fatally shot at the 7-Eleven in Brea, according to the newspaper.
“These crimes have broken our hearts,” Brea police Chief Adam Hawley said during the news conference.
At 4:55 a.m., a clerk and customer at a 7-Eleven in La Habra were wounded by gunfire. Russell Browning said he was shot in the face as he sat in his car outside the store, KTTV reported.
Browning said he saw the suspect and the clerk come out of the store.
“He was taller than my car, so I didn’t get a good look at him,” Browning told the television station. “And then all of a sudden, he just lifted the gun and shot.”
“It was complete relief that these guys were in custody because the way they were going, I don’t think they were going to stop,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez told the Register after the news conference. “It’s not just serial robberies, he turned into a serial killer.”
Law enforcement did not offer many details about the case but said that “technology” played a role in the arrests, The Associated Press reported.
Police also did not say if they believed the men targeted 7-Elevens because Monday’s date was July 11, or 7/11.
Patt was booked into jail in Santa Ana, police said. Payne was being treated for unspecified injuries and will be booked after he is released.
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