Surveillance image of the suspect in a series of deadly shootings at 7-Eleven stores in Southern California. Courtesy Brea Police
A manhunt was underway Tuesday for a man believed to have carried out a series of robberies and shootings at 7-Eleven stores that occurred in three Southern California counties, leaving at least two people dead.
Authorities say as many as three additional people were wounded in robberies at stores in Brea, La Habra, Santa Ana, Riverside, Ontario and Upland.
The rash of violence — carried out on July 11, or 7-11 — prompted the 7-Eleven corporation to recommend that Los Angeles-area stores temporarily close their doors.
“Right now, our focus is on franchisee, associate and customer safety,” according to a company statement. “With that in mind, we encouraged stores in the Los Angeles area to close overnight.”
Brea Police said they responded at 4:17 a.m. Monday to the 7-Eleven store at Lambert Road and North Brea Boulevard and found a male store clerk fatally shot in what officers determined to be a robbery.
The clerk was later identified as 40-year-old Matthew Hirsch, who died at the scene, police said.
According to Brea police, that shooting is believed to be related to another shooting that occurred a short time later in La Habra.
According to La Habra Police Sgt. Eric Roy, officers responded at 4:55 a.m. Monday to a robbery at the 7-Eleven store at 381 E. Whittier Blvd. When officers arrived, they found two gunshot victims who were taken to a hospital by Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics, he said.
Both of the victims in the La Habra shooting were expected to survive, Roy said. Police said the victims were a clerk and a customer.
At a late-morning news conference Monday, Brea Police Capt. Phil Rodriguez said, “Based on some preliminary evidence we do believe it is possibly the same suspect.”
Rodriguez said investigators were looking into possible connections to 7-Eleven shootings Monday morning in Santa Ana and Riverside.
“We are aware of other incidents that have occurred in the southland at 7-Elevens,” Rodriguez said. “We obviously at this point can’t confirm whether they are connected, but we assure you our detectives are looking into that.”
Santa Ana Police said 24-year-old Matthew Rule of Santa Ana was fatally shot at 3:25 a.m. Monday outside the 7-Eleven store in the 300 block of East 17th Street. Police found Rule in the parking lot with a gunshot wound to the upper body, Santa Ana Police Department Sgt. Maria Lopez said. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
The suspect apparently never entered the store in Santa Ana and it appears he robbed Rule, Lopez said. It wasn’t clear if Rule was a customer of the store or why he was there, Lopez said.
Based on surveillance photos of the suspect in the Brea and La Habra shootings, Santa Ana police said they believe it was the same suspect in Santa Ana, Lopez said.
In Riverside, a customer was shot about 1:50 a.m. Monday in what police described as an apparent robbery at the 7-Eleven store at 5102 La Sierra Ave., according to Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback. Police said the victim in that shooting was in grave condition.
“The suspect entered the store, brandished a firearm and robbed the clerk, then shot a customer before fleeing the store on foot,” Railsback said.
The first stickup may have occurred in Ontario. Police said just after midnight Monday, the 7-Eleven at 636 N. Vine Ave. was robbed. The suspect held up the store with a handgun, but no shots were fired and no one was injured, police said.
In Upland, the 7-Eleven store at 2410 W. Arrow Route was robbed at 12:40 a.m. Monday, police said. Investigators in Upland were huddling with other agencies to see if there was a connection.
The 7-Eleven company issued an initial statement Monday, saying, “Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones. We are gathering information on this terrible tragedy and working with local law enforcement.”
The Brea location where Hirsch was fatally shot was one of several stores that opted to close Monday evening and early Tuesday morning. Yellow police tape was strung along the parking lot in the early morning hours and a makeshift memorial next to the parking has been created for Hirsch.
Anyone with information was asked to call Brea Police Department Detective Alfred Rodriguez at 714-671-4438 or [email protected].
City News Service contributed to this article.