Scott Schafer was out in front of his house on Oceanside’s Santa Anita Street at about 5 p.m. His four-year–old son was playing with two neighbor kids. Scott was friends with their dad Robbie, who also had a four-year-old. They all went trick-or-treating together the previous Halloween. “They get along great,” Scott said later.
The group was hanging out on a Friday afternoon, April 24, 2015. Their neighborhood — in the northeast quadrant formed by Interstate 5 and Highway 76, near Camp Pendleton’s main gate — is less than a mile from the ocean as the seagull flies. It was overcast all day, with a little drizzle in the middle of the day, and almost no wind at all. The temperature hovered around 60 all day and into the night.
While they were standing in the yard, Scott and Robbie saw a tall young woman walk along the sidewalk toward them. She had two little boys with her. The men recognized the boys. They lived around the corner. The young woman turned out to be their new babysitter. The babysitter, Jessica, quickly made friends with Scott’s wife Emily. They were both from New York.
Everybody enjoyed the accidental get-together. When Scott saw that the boys were straying into the street, he invited everyone into his home; the boys played on the trampoline in the backyard while Scott fired up the BBQ and they had hamburgers and hot dogs.
It was after 8 p.m. and dark outside when Jessica said she ought to get the boys home. She expected their mother would return home sometime around 9 p.m., and Jessica needed to bathe the boys and get them into bed. Emily walked Jessica back to their home on Santa Rosa Street a block east.
Scott said it was about 30 minutes later when Jessica suddenly returned. “We heard the car roll up really fast, we heard a screech,” Scott remembered. “And she came up to the house really hysterical, and I really did not understand what was going on, because she was not making any sense.”
The young woman was frantic for help. “We were the only ones in the neighborhood she knew, so she came back to our house,” Scott realized. “I assumed there was something wrong with the kids, so I was already out the door with Robbie.”
But Emily quickly caught up with her husband. “My wife stopped me and said, ‘No, the dad is dead,’ that the man there had killed the father.”
Scott remembered all this two years later, in a courtroom. “My wife said, ‘Hold on... The dad is dead, and the kids are there.’”
Scott had been an active-duty Marine from 1996 through 2000. He is of average height and looks unremarkable at first glance until one notices how fit he is. He went back inside his home long enough to get his KA-BAR knife, the type that Marines use. “After she said somebody was dead, possibly to protect myself, or those children,” Scott explained his actions later to a judge. He said he took the knife without the sheath.
Robbie had a pistol in his home, and he hurried to get it. But Robbie was on crutches because he had sprained his foot a few days earlier, so he was moving slower. Scott jumped in his truck and told Robbie he would pick him up. “I picked up Robbie from his house, in my truck, and drove to the next road, where the house was.... I parked probably two houses from the actual house. It took us a couple minutes.”
When Scott and Robbie pulled up, they could see a man with a can of beer in his hand walking up the driveway at 1435 Santa Rosa Street. The garage door was open, but it was dark inside the cluttered garage. At the very back of the garage was a small, weak light. There was a narrow path through the mess where a person could walk from the front to a door in the back wall that led into the home.
The would-be rescuers could hear the man with the beer calling out, “Tony? Tony? Are you all right?” That was the first time Scott or Robbie heard the name Tony.
After the man in the driveway had gone a short way into the garage, he saw something that caused him alarm. “I remember him dropping his beer and turning around,” Scott said. The man who let go of his beer retreated back across the street to his house.
Scott walked up the driveway toward the garage. Finally he could see a man crouched in the far corner of the garage, near the small light. “I was saying, ‘Tony, Tony, are you all right? What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m not all right.’” Scott used the same name he heard the beer-toting man use. He did not recognize the man in the garage.
Robbie was close behind Scott. His pistol was inside the front pocket of his hoodie. Scott said later, “I pulled out my knife, told Robbie to pull out his gun and draw down, and if he started coming at me to shoot him.”
Both men later said they could see the man in the back of the garage was cutting at his own neck and arms. “It was pretty distinct that he was cutting himself with the object in his right hand.” Scott said the cutting tool was not a knife but something smaller. “Maybe it was a piece of glass.” There were broken shards of glass all around, on the floor.
“His back was toward me,” Scott remembered. Then he saw the man put down his cutting tool and pick up something else. “I could see a light in Tony’s hands, it looked like the light of a cell phone in his hands.” The man cupped the light in both hands. “It appeared to me he was looking at his phone and texting.” Scott decided this was the moment. “I thought to take him.... I decided to put my knife up on the fridge; I was confident enough not to terminate him but to just physically subdue him,” Scott said. “I felt confident enough in my ability to just grab him and hold him down, instead of doing more damage.”