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Salon suspect's ex-wife claimed abuse

Elaine Metz, of Seal Beach. Calif., lights a candle in front of the site where eight people were killed and one was wounded Wednesday in a shooting at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) 

Elaine Metz, of Seal Beach. Calif., lights a candle in front of the site where eight people were killed and one was wounded Wednesday in a shooting at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) 

SEAL BEACH, Calif. -- The ex-wife of the man suspected of killing eight people in a shooting rampage at a hair salon claimed in court papers filed this year that he was mentally unstable and had threatened to kill himself or someone else at least once.

Michelle Fournier Dekraai made the allegations in May in a filing related to her long-running, bitter custody battle with Scott Dekraai over their 7-year-old son. There was no sign that she had filed a restraining order.

Police said Scott Dekraai opened fire in the salon where his ex-wife worked Wednesday afternoon, a day after he was in court for a hearing related to the custody dispute.Police have not released information about the victims and it's unclear if Dekraai's ex-wife is among them, but witnesses said she was at the Meritage Salon when the gunman barged in and began shooting.The couple divorced in 2007, and Scott Dekraai remarried, but the battle over their son continued to rage. Michelle Fournier Dekraai wrote in the court papers that her ex-husband was "almost manic when it comes to demanding absolute right to control our son and make unilateral decisions."

She wrote that giving Scott Dekraai more custody of their child would be lead to "a situation where the inmates are running the asylum."

She also wrote that her ex-husband had been physically abusive to her during their marriage, and that in 2008 he beat his stepfather, pleaded guilty to assault and battery and underwent a year of anger management.

A temporary restraining order obtained by Scott Dekraai's stepfather in 2007 said that Dekraai attacked him that year, leaving him with cuts and bruises on his face and right arm. It said Dekraai's son witnessed the attack.

Michelle Dekraai also alleged that her ex-husband called 911 at least once and "advised that he was going to kill himself or someone else." She wrote that he "is a diagnosed bipolar individual who has problems with his own medication and his reaction to same, and he certainly shouldn't be allowed to have unilateral and unfettered control of any and all medical and psychological aspects of our son's life."

In his own court filing, Scott Dekraai alleged that his ex-wife had a drinking problem, saying she was talking loudly and slurring words at their son's Little League baseball game earlier this year and that her breath smelled of alcohol when he picked up his son from her house one time last year.

He told the court in 2008 that he wanted to communicate with his ex-wife only by email because she was verbally abusive, and that she used an expletive word in place of his name.

Lydia Sosa, a hairstylist who worked at the salon until about two years ago, said Michelle Dekraai spoke often of her "bitter" problems with her ex-husband.

Scott Dekraai's neighbors in Huntington Beach also were aware of the custody battle. They described him as an outgoing man who invited them over for pool parties and played catch with his son in his yard.

"It was a very difficult battle and he was trying to get more time" with his son, said Jo Cornhall, who lives across the street from Dekraai.

Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, said she was shocked when she saw the photo of the stocky man with thinning hair being detained by Seal Beach police.

"I'm like, `No, not this neighbor, no way. He's the nicest guy ever,"' Malchow said.

Six women and two men died were killed in the shooting. Their identities were not officially released, but owner Randy Fannin's niece, Tami Scarcella, told the Los Angeles Times her uncle was among the dead.

Wednesday was a busy afternoon at the salon and every hair-dressing station was full. Terrified customers dove for cover as the gunman opened fire in the shop blocks from the beach in this quaint seaside town.

The shooter stepped outside, shot a man sitting in a truck in the parking lot and sped off.

Police arrested Dekraai, 41, about a half-mile from the scene. He did not struggle, police said

A woman who was wounded in the rampage remained in critical condition Thursday, police said. Sgt. Steve Bowles said the woman was showing some signs of improvement. Her name was not released.

The crime scene tape around the salon was gone early Thursday, with blinds on the side windows drawn and black plastic bags taped over the front windows and door.

A memorial to the victims early Thursday started with two candles, some pink hibiscus blooms and a handwritten poem called "The Day After."

Written on line notebook paper and signed only Laurie, it was "dedicated to all who lost and a most precious Seal Beach that didn't deserve this carnage."

Mary Stearns of Huntington Beach came by to show her respects and leave a red candle. She knew Fannin, the salon owner, for more than 30 years, following him to three different salons over the years to get her hair done every eight weeks.

"I was going to have him over for Christmas. I just saw him on Saturday. I had a bottle of wine I brought back from Australia. He loved wine," she said.

A woman who gave her name only as Cindy told the Orange County Register that she was in the salon, having her hair colored, when the gunman came in, went up to a woman stylist and fired.

At first, the customer said she thought it was a Halloween prank.

Then the man shot a woman who was having her hair shampooed, and then shot the salon owner, who was coloring Cindy's hair, she said.

"I just kept hearing boom, boom, boom, boom," she said. "I ran out. I didn't see his face. I just saw the gun in his hand and him shoot (everybody)."

Cindy said she ran next door to another business, where she went into the bathroom, closed the door and turned out the light.

"There was like a `pop pop' ... and my receptionist screamed out, `He just shot that man' and we all went into the bathroom and called 911," said Kimberly Criswell, who owns a salon two doors away and knew many hairstylists at Salon Meritage. "I'm sure I've lost some friends today."It was the worst mass shooting in Orange County history since July 12, 1976, when a custodian killed seven people and wounded two others at California State University, Fullerton. Seal Beach had seen just one homicide in the four years before Wednesday.

Glenn Zachman, who owns a video news-gathering service, said he arrived at the scene of the arrest shortly after police and saw they had placed plastic bags over the man's hands to preserve possible gunshot residue.

The man, in handcuffs, was placed in a patrol car and taken away about two-and-a-half hours after the shooting. A new white pickup truck that was believed to be his was parked on the modest residential street with its doors open.

The man was cooperative when officers, working from a description of the shooter, stopped him near the salon, Sgt. Bowles said.

Shortly after Dekraai was arrested, police arrived at a house on Melody Lane in nearby Huntington Beach, escorted two women to a white car and then roped off the house with crime scene tape. The house is registered to Scott Dekraai.

Scott Dekraai was seeking full custody of the couple's son but a court-ordered review recommended against that, John Cate Jr., the attorney for Michelle Dekraai, told the Orange County Register.

Dekraai appeared for a court hearing in the case on Tuesday but it was merely a scheduling meeting, Cate said.

"Obviously, I saw no indication" that he was violent, the attorney said.

Kari Salveson of Los Alamitos, who attended a service for the victims at SeaCoast Grace Church in Seal Beach, said she had known Michelle Dekraai for more than 10 years.

She said Michelle Dekraai made her every visit to the salon special.

"She could gab away. She was one of those girlfriends you could never get enough of. She made you smile and she made you laugh," Salveson said.

Scott Dekraai married his current wife two or three years ago in his backyard, said his neighbor Malchow, who attended the wedding.

"He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son," she said.

Dekraai walked with a limp after a tug boat accident that killed a fellow tug boat operator about two miles off the coast in 2007.

The area where the shootings took place is dotted with salons, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques clustered just blocks from a beach and pier popular with teenagers and young families. Many residents live and work within walking distance of the ocean and many businesses cater to Leisure World, a gated retirement community a few miles away that is home to 9,000 people.

"It's like Mayberry in the middle of Los Angeles," said Doyle Surratt, lead pastor of SeaCoast Grace Church.

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Associated Press writers John Rogers and Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach contributed to this report.