Seven adults were shot, one woman fatally, when a gunman who witnesses said never left his poolside chair opened fire on a birthday party at an University City apartment complex Sunday.
Police shot and killed the suspect, later identified as 49-year-old Peter Selis, a resident at the upscale La Jolla Crossroads complex on Judicial Drive near the Westfield UTC Shopping Center.
A 2015 bankruptcy filing stated that Selis, a father and a car mechanic at a Ford dealership in San Diego, faced crushing debt.
Authorities said the shooter, armed with a semi-automatic pistol, was white and all the victims were people of color — four black women, two black men and one Latino man. The woman killed was not identified.
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said investigators have not determined a motive, and were still interviewing witnesses. Authorities were unsure if Selis knew any of the victims.
Partygoer Drew Phillips said shortly before the 6 p.m. shooting, his friend — who was celebrating his birthday — had approached Selis and offered him food and drink. The man declined, and continued to sit quietly yards away.
“Six or seven minutes later it’s just pow, pow, pow, pow — out of nowhere,” Phillips said. “...There was no indication that he was there to do evil.”
Everyone scattered, including a man who fell and broke his arm. Witnesses said there were about 30 people at the pool. At least one of the partygoers lived at the complex.
Phillips, of Escondido, said he hopped a fence where he spotted a Latino man he’d met minutes earlier at the party. He had been shot in his abdomen.
“He was just laying there, and just the look in his eyes — sheer terror,” Phillips said. “I threw my phone down. I just picked him up and I just carried him. I basically ran as fast as I could with him in my arms.”
Two young girls, ages 3 and 8, were with a grandmother and a nanny when the shooting started. Their grandfather, Shahrayar Jeff, said they escaped unscathed.
He said the older child described seeing Selis, in a baseball cap and glasses, “relaxing and shooting people.”
Two UC San Diego students who were in a nearby hot tub were too scared to bolt, but then slowly made their way to a wall. One of the students, 20-year-old Kaela Wong, said she heard Selis threaten women trying to help a victim.
“You can either leave or you can stay here and die,” Wong said she heard Selis say.
Zimmerman said a police helicopter arrived before officers on the ground, and the helicopter crew saw Selis apparently reloading his weapon. The crew directed a sergeant and two officers to the pool.
Police fired when Selis pointed his gun at them, Zimmerman said. She said it’s unclear if Selis fired at the officers.
Amit Godbole was in his apartment when he heard gunfire.
“It was like a war zone or something,” Godbole said. “There would be three or four shots, a pause and then more shots. I was trying to count them. I counted 30 or 40.”
Eight people — the seven shooting victims and the man who broke his arm — were taken to hospitals. Among the shooting victims was the man celebrating his birthday.
At least one of the party attendees lived at the upscale complex.
Several of the injured remained in critical condition, Zimmerman said Sunday night.
“Our hearts go out to all the victims, their families and anyone who witnessed this tragic event,” the chief said.
In the aftermath of the violence, pools of blood could be seen near a table filled with food under an umbrella. Red cups were scattered on the ground and a patio table lay on its side.
At a late night press conference, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer condemned the “horrific act.”
“We stand united as a city to reject this senseless violence,” he said.
This story was updated at 1:30 a.m. on May 1.