NORTHRIDGE - Two men and two women were found shot to death outside what looked to be an illegal boarding house in Northridge before dawn Sunday in what police said appeared to be targeted killings.
Officers said they responded to an early morning 911 call from someone who reportedly heard screams, shouts and then gunfire in the 17400 block of Devonshire Street, said LAPD Capt. William Hayes of the department's elite Robbery-Homicide Division.
When police arrived at 4:25 a.m., they found two men and two women on the side of the five-bedroom, two-story, single-family house.
All the victims were of Asian descent, but their names were not released pending notification of next of kin by coroner's officials, said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
"Two females appear to be in their 20s, one man in his 30s, and another one his 40s," Smith said. "It does not appear to be a murder-suicide. Detectives are working to find a suspect or suspects to try to determine who did this."
Smith said the bodies were in close proximity at the side of the house.
Witnesses said three of the victims were face down, and one man in his 30s was face up. Each was wearing street clothes, not pajamas, or other night clothes.
"We don't know if they were living or staying at the home," Smith said. "As the detectives dig in, we'll see what they were involved in. It's kind of sad, you wonder about them and their family and what they were doing at that hour."
No weapon was found at the scene, Hayes said.
Neighbors who live on or near tree-lined Devonshire Street said they suspected the residence was a halfway house or illegal boarding home.
A blue tent had been placed over the bodies as police closed off several blocks.
Neighbors said they have seen sheriff's deputies visit the home, but offered no details. Smith said police had no recent record of problems at the home.
"It wasn't a party home," Smith said.
The 4,200-square-foot home, built in 1969, is assessed at $565,080, according to tax records.
City officials said the murders appeared to have been targeted, with no apparent connection to a home-invasion robbery.
Councilman Mitchell Englander, who responded to the crime scene just after dawn, called the killings a tragedy involving an alleged illegal boarding house.
"There was a lot of blood," Englander said. "It was a very graphic scene, a very heinous crime. It also appeared to have been an isolated incident; it was not a robbery situation."
Conditions inside were extremely squalid, according to Englander, who entered the house once in the morning and again in the afternoon. He said he had to hold his nose to block the stench.
Mattresses were scattered on the floor from room to room, he said. Extension cords stretched across the house, some coming in from outside. In one bedroom, debris was piled in front of the door; its occupants entered by crawling through an outside window, which also vented a portable heater.
One room appeared to have been occupied by an invalid, Englander said, with extension cords snaking in from holes in the door. A sign read: "No smoking. Oxygen in use."
A resident, possibly disabled from the presence of a wheelchair, appeared to live above a makeshift house addition built above a carport, he said.
"The entire house smelled of feces and urine," Englander said.
It appeared more than a dozen occupants lived there, he said. Each was taken in for questioning.
He said the house was precisely the type of unpermitted facility targeted by the city's pending boarding house ordinance.
Another draft is slated to go before the City Council in January.
On Sunday, inspectors from the city's Building and Safety Department investigated the home for potential nuisance, zoning and code violations, and health and safety infractions.
"This is exactly the type of structure I'm trying to shut down," Englander said. "You wouldn't want any man, woman or child living in a facility like this. It was clearly unsafe.
"These unregulated, unlicensed boarding homes are in everybody's community throughout the city of Los Angeles. It is a growing issue, and we've got to get them under control."
It's unclear if the condition of the house is a factor in the investigation," Smith said.
The owner, Yag Dutt Kapil, was a president of the Temple Valley Society and founder of the Valley Hindu Temple in Northridge. Kapil founded the temple in honor of his late wife, Madsu, he said.
The 78-year-old immigrant from East Africa said he was in bed when the shooting occurred. He said he heard no shots.
"I didn't know what happened outside," Kapil, who is bedridden with diabetes and heart disease, told the Daily News.
"I'm a prisoner now. I can't move." he said. "I can't do anything. "I'm sorry what happened there. I didn't know ... somebody was shot outside. I have stress, too much. My sugar level went up. It's terrible. I feel terrible for the people who died outside. I have heart pain."
Kapil disputed reports that he operated an illicit boarding house, but told reporters throughout the day that he rented out parts of his home to others.
He said four family members lived at the house.
He said no one in his household knew the identities or anything about the bodies lying on the grass outside.
"It is not a boarding house." said Kapil, a retired bus mechanic who immigrated 41 years ago.
"This area is a decent area."
Staff Writer Jerry Berrios contributed to this report.