Four people were killed and at least four injured at a Halloween party shooting at a Northern California home rented by a woman who falsely claimed she wanted the Airbnb so her asthmatic family members could escape wildfire smoke, police and a person with knowledge of the transaction said Friday.
Gunshots were reported at about 10:45 p.m. Thursday at the large home in the wealthy San Francisco suburb of Orinda where more than 100 people had gathered, police said. The home, surrounded by trees and up a steep driveway, had been rented on Airbnb by a woman who told the owner her dozen family members needed a location with fresh air, the person with knowledge of the transaction told The Associated Press.
A one-night rental on Halloween was suspicious enough that before agreeing to rent the home the owner reminded the renter that no parties were allowed, said the person, who was not authorized to publicly disclose the information and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The renter, whose name and hometown have not been disclosed, told the homeowner that her family members had asthma and needed a place to escape the smoky air. A giant wildfire burning in Sonoma County about 97 kilometers north of Orinda earlier in the week forced tens of thousands to evacuate and fouled the air over a wide area.
Michael Wang, who owns the 372-square-meter, four-bedroom house, said his wife reached out to the renter Thursday night after neighbors contacted them about the party. The renter said there were only a dozen people at the home. However, Wang said he could see more people on video from his doorbell camera.
“We called the police. They were on the way to go there to stop them, but before we got there the neighbor already sent us a message saying there was a shooting,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in a phone interview. “When we arrived there, the police were already there.”
Though no suspect was identified or arrested, Orinda Police Chief David Cook said at a news conference there is no ongoing threat to the public.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that they stayed in the area,” Cook said. “We don’t have any reason to believe that they were from Orinda.”
Cook did not address a possible motive or whether more than one person was involved in the shooting that made people run out of the house in terror.
The party apparently was advertised on social media and one attendee said he was inside the main floor, enjoying the music and watching people dance, when he heard shots and people started running. The screaming seemed to last forever, said Devan, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared for his safety.
“Everybody started running, scrambling,” he said. “People were just collapsing and friends were helping friends. It was a scary situation and then as everyone is panicking and stuff, there were more shots.”
Devan shot a video posted to Instagram that showed a wounded man on the ground and a police officer standing over him and a woman saying she needs to go to the hospital “because my hand’s been blown off.” At one point, the camera is pointed at the house and a woman off camera is heard asking if someone is hurt. Shots then ring out from inside the home and people outside run.
The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office said at least four people were wounded but there’s no precise count because some victims went to hospitals in private vehicles rather than ambulances.
Police surround the block
In Orinda on Friday, police tape surrounded the block where the house is located as people came to collect their cars and other belongings. One woman in tears told reporters the father of her child had been killed. She left before giving her name.
Romond Reynolds picked up the car of his son, 24-year-old Armani Reynolds, who he said was left comatose by the shooting.
“All I know is that he’s a victim and was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Reynolds said, adding his son apparently learned about the party on the internet.
Reynolds said he received a call at about 11 p.m. saying someone had driven his son to the hospital.
Neighbor Shahram Saki, 61, said in a phone interview he heard loud music and then the sound of shots. When he opened his door, he saw dozens of people run out of the house and some hid in the bushes in his front yard. Others begged to go into his house.
“They were screaming for help. I told them, ‘You gotta get out of here,’“ Saki said. “I was scared to death, anything could have happened.”
Saki said he signed a petition about a year ago to complain about renters at the home, who he said often parked their vehicles along the street and sometimes blocked his driveway.
Orinda city documents show officials issued violations in March for exceeding the home’s maximum occupancy and illegal parking. City Manager Steve Salomon said the homeowner had resolved previous complaints lodged in February over occupancy and noise and in July over overflowing trash.
Orinda, with a population of about 20,000, requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax. The maximum occupancy is two people per bedroom plus three people not assigned to bedrooms.
Salomon said the property was registered with the city as a short-term rental with a maximum occupancy of 13 people.
Airbnb is “urgently investigating” what happened, spokesman Ben Breit said in an email. Airbnb has banned the renter from its platform and the home has been removed as a listing, he said.
The home’s Airbnb ad included prohibitions on smoking, marijuana use, weapons and parties, Breit added. The listing also said that quiet hours must be observed between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. because neighboring homes are close.
The home last sold for $1.2 million in 2017 and rents for about $420 per night.