FONTANA >> In the wee hours of Wednesday, police say a 73-year-old man shot and killed three family members and wounded a fourth at a Fontana apartment complex, although one person managed to escape the gunfire.
“This appears to be a result of some sort of family issue, but we're not certain of the exact nature,” Sgt. Kevin Goltara said Wednesday morning outside the Village Drive Apartments at 14520 Village Drive.
Police allege Ali Zafar, who lives in Orange County, killed his family members over a long-standing financial family issue.
Officers were called shortly before 3 a.m. for a shooting. Police at the scene confirmed it was a triple homicide. Two women and a man were killed and another man is in critical condition.
Another woman in the home managed to flee the apartment unharmed, police said.
“I heard about five shots and heard a woman screaming,” said Sarah Frias, who lives in the unit directly in front of where the shooting took place.
Concerned over the safety of the woman, Frias and her nephew went outside and noticed a large puddle of blood on the ground at the base of the stairs leading to the victims' apartment.
Another neighbor, believing the cries for help were for a fire, had accidentally locked herself and her children out of their home.
“I just yelled to everyone to get inside, and the man who was shot and the lady and her kids all came inside,” a still visibly shaken Frias said Wednesday afternoon.
Once inside, Frias told the bleeding man to get into the bathroom as she tried to stop the blood coming from his face.
“It took three large bath towels, and they were just soaked in blood,” said Sarah Frias' brother Eddie Frias, who lives in the same complex but was at work during the shooting. He returned home when he heard what happened.
“He couldn't talk and only said, ‘Uncle, uncle,' ” Sarah Frias said. “Then he made a sign like a gun with his hand and put it in his mouth,”
The 33-year-old mother stopped for a moment and composed herself.
“I just don't know how someone can be so hateful to kill a family member like that,” she said.
After police and paramedics arrived, Sarah Frias said she was still worried about the woman they heard screaming and wondered if she was among those killed in the apartment.
“When I was at the station, I saw her come out and I thought, ‘Thank God,' ” she said. “I was so worried about her, and I was hoping she was OK.”
She later learned the young, uninjured woman took refuge in another neighbor's home before police arrived.
The Frias family was not injured, but Eddie Frias was shaken up at how close the shooting had come to his family.
“A wall separates the apartments, so they're right next to each other,” Eddie Frias said.
With the memory of the bloody scene still fresh in her mind, Sarah Frias said she won't be able to return home and hopes to move to another apartment within the complex.
“I can't go back in there,” she said. “While I was inside, I stayed away from the door and the bathroom because there was just so much blood. I can't go back in there.”
Police did not confirm the shooter was the wounded man's uncle but did say the victims and gunman are related.
Officials say the shooting occurred in a two-bedroom apartment with a modified living room where people slept. It is unclear how many people lived in the unit.
Zafar had arrived at the apartment only the night before and was visiting, police said, however the Frias family said they'd seen Zafar at the complex for at least the last few weeks.
“It looks like the family was planning a trip for (Wednesday),” Goltara said.
At some point, Zafar allegedly began firing at those in the apartment, most of whom were sleeping, officials said.
“Some were asleep, and others woke up to the gunfire,” Goltara said.
It wasn't clear if Zafar brought the firearm with him or if he allegedly used a gun already at the location, Goltara said.
Juan Carlos Sanchez, who has lived at the apartment complex for eight years, said he didn't hear anything early this morning. He said it's a quiet complex.
“I came outside and saw all of these officers,” Sanchez said. “I was really shocked.”
Sanchez said he had to ride a bike to work because his car was stuck behind crime scene tape. Several residents' cars also were stuck behind the crime scene at the apartment complex.
The incident remains under investigation.
The last triple-homicide that took place in the city was in 2013, said Goltara, who has been part of the department for the last 15 years and grew up in the city. Initially, he couldn't recall the last homicide that involved three victims.
On New Year's Eve 2013, Ramon Miranda, 38, shot his wife, Silvia Miranda, 34, their son Ramon Jr., 12, and daughter Rayna, 10, in their Palmetto Avenue home.
“It seems the last time this happened, it also involved a family dispute,” Goltara said, adding that in the Miranda incident, the couple was going through a separation.
By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun / POSTED: 01/04/17, 5:52 AM PST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO