By Ben Brumfield, Chelsea J. Carter and Miguel Marquez
SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) — Rifle fire cracked through the air just before noon Friday in Santa Monica. Minutes later, when police responded, a house was ablaze.
The gunman was gone.
By the time officers caught up with him, he had killed four people and wounded five more on a nearly mile-long shooting rampage, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, a spokesman for the Santa Monica police.
Authorities had said earlier that six died, but later revised the number down to four. The gunman was killed in a firefight with police, bringing the total number of fatalities to five.
In the charred house, firefighters and police found the bodies of the first two victims, both men. They may have known — or even been related to — their killer, whom police described as a white male between ages 25 and 30.
They have not disclosed his name. Police believe he chose the rest of his victims at random.
He was clad in black and outfitted with a tactical vest that contained no body armor. Witnesses later described him as calm, cool and methodical.
He carried an “AR-15 style rifle,” pistols and “more clips for the rifle,” Lewis said.
He had his eye out for a ride.
Jerry Cunningham watched the gunman from her front porch. Before leaving the house, he fired some shots at it. Then he stopped a woman in a car and held her at gunpoint, Cunningham said.
A second woman drove by. Her car slowed. The man “fired three shots directly into her and the car,” Cunningham said.
She survived and is in stable condition in a local hospital, police said.
They are not naming victims until next of kin have been notified.
The owner of the heisted vehicle drove off with the gunman. As they passed a bus, he opened fire.
“On that bus, we had three injured — all minor — all walked into the hospital themselves,” Lewis said. They may have been hit by flying glass, he said.
The more gunfire he unleashed, the more 911 calls came in from various locations, creating points on the map for police to follow, Lewis said.
Pulling onto the campus, he fired into a red SUV, killing its driver and wounding a passenger.
“The vehicle traveled after that and then crashed,” Lewis said.
The passenger was taken to a hospital and is in critical condition.
Sometime during his rampage, the shooter opened fire at a patrol car. Officers returned fire and pursued.
Fleeing on foot, the man continued the gunbattle with police on the campus of the community college, where more than 30,000 students are enrolled. He left the driver of the hijacked car behind, uninjured, Lewis said.
When student Joe Orcutt saw the firefight between the man and officers, he took off running.
But he made an unfortunate turn and came face-to-face with the gunman.
“He was standing there. He looked over at me, and I looked at him. He just panned his gun and trained it on me, and I just jumped behind the building and he shot at me,” Orcutt said.
Orcutt said he heard bullets “whiz by my head.”
The gunman was “very calm, not running around.” He was just “looking around for targets very casually,” he said.
“He just looked like he was standing there posing for the cover of an ammo magazine or something. It was bizarre.”
As the killer bolted for the campus library, he encountered a woman, said Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.
He killed her and moved on.
Students were in the library studying when the gunman burst in.
A woman — who was shaken up by the ordeal and asked not to be identified — said she was in the building when she heard a noise. She realized it was a gunshot, and took off.
In a hallway, she saw a dark-haired man whom she initially mistook for a police officer, but later realized was the shooter. The man was treading quietly and casually in his black combat boots.
She and a colleague realized something was wrong and ran in the opposite direction. Multiple gunshots rang out in an exchange of gunfire with the police the woman described was like a war zone.
Priscilla Morales, who was also studying in the library, said she looked out of the window and saw people running.
She and her friends grabbed their books and belongings. “As we open the door, we hear three gunshots,” she said.
Morales and the others closed the door and hid.
“I was so scared and thought literally I was going to die,” she said. She heard police tell the gunman to “drop it.”
Still, she could hear the commotion: gunshots and the gunman screaming.
Death on the sidewalk
The officers had critically wounded him, Lewis said.
At the time of the shooting, they thought there was a second gunman. They detained a second man on campus, but later cleared and released him, Lewis said. “At this time we believe it was a single gunman.”
Police were afraid the firefight might not yet be over. “So, both the victim from there and the suspect at the time were taken out to a safer location,” Lewis said.
They laid the gunman out on a sidewalk, where he died.
CNN’s Miguel Marquez reported from Santa Monica and Chelsea J. Carter and Phil Gast reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Cheri Mossburg and Traci Tamura contributed to this report.