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In San Diego, a birthday party, then gunshots and terror

Photo: KGTV

SAN DIEGO — As law enforcement in San Diego dug for clues to the motive behind a deadly shooting rampage at a pool party, one person who saw the carnage unfold said he could only describe it as “terror.”

“He let off eight rounds, reloaded, let off another eight, reloaded again,” Demetrius Griffin, a Seattle-area man who attended the party, told CNN.

“He was very docile. In his facial expression, no smiling, laughing, talking.”

The shooter, identified by authorities as 49-year-old Peter Selis, killed a woman and wounded six others on Sunday evening. The shootings happened at the La Jolla Crossroads apartments, authorities said.

One witness told CNN affiliate KGTV, that the shooter looked “relaxed” and was sitting “with a beer in one hand and a gun in the other.”

But Griffin disputed that and said there was “no beer involved.”

Griffin confirmed what police earlier said, that the event at the pool was a birthday party. It’s not clear exactly how many people were in the pool area at the time — or whether Selis knew any of the victims, police said.

But Griffin said nobody in the party knew the shooter who was sitting nearby and in close proximity to an exit. He said everybody shot was attending the party.

Griffin said the shooter looked over at the party several times before he opened fire and people began scrambling and screaming. “He didn’t say a single word,” Griffin said.

As police responded to 911 calls, officers flying above the complex in a helicopter could see the suspect in the pool area, and he appeared to be reloading a large-caliber handgun, officials said.

Three officers who raced to the scene confronted the shooter, who pointed his weapon at them, prompting an exchange of gunfire. Police officers shot and killed the gunman, authorities said.

“This was a truly horrific and disturbing act. We pray for the victims and thank our first responders. Our city rejects this senseless violence,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said at a news conference.

Shots ring out in placid neighborhood

The upscale complex is located near the University of California San Diego campus and the shooting rang out in what is normally a tranquil location.

Enzo Zhuang, a student at the school whose apartment overlooks the pool, was playing video games when he heard arguing and minutes later, noises that sounded like fireworks.

“I thought to myself, who would be lighting fireworks?” Zhuang said,”it was always peaceful here before this happened.”

Gabrielle Sulli, who lives at the apartment complex, told KGTV she heard “people screaming” and said “there is a crazy guy that is shooting, we decided to run … we literally saw people jumping out from the fences and running away like crazy.”

In a span of about 30 minutes, apartment residents heard gunfire, sirens and the screams of those near the main pool, said resident Susan Berry, who was at the property but did not witness the shooting.

Video from the scene showed ambulances, yellow police tape and a heavy police presence. Berry said those things aren’t a common sight at the complex, which college students, physicians and military families, among others, call home.

“People are shocked because it’s an affluent neighborhood,” Berry said.

Another person was injured in the incident, breaking his arm while fleeing the gunfire, police said. San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman initially said eight people had been shot. Some of the injured were in critical condition late Sunday night, police said.

Selis, who faced significant debts, filed for bankruptcy in 2015. He listed his occupation as a car mechanic, according to a petition filed in US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of California.

The gunman was white. The victims were identified only as four black women, two black men and a Hispanic man. Their names were not immediately released.

When asked how he would characterize what happened, Griffin didn’t want to label it. He said he wasn’t saying it was an “act of terrorism.”

“But it’s terror,” he said.

“What’s important now is making sure that everybody is OK, Griffin said, “that young lady who unfortunately passed away, that her family is comforted.”

On Monday morning, the grief and terror persisted when Griffin woke up. He started crying.

“I thought I was still in the pool area,” he said. “I rolled out of my bed and hit the ground.”