COVINA, Calif. – When Roxanne Jauregui heard on Christmas Day that there had been a horrible shooting on her best friend's street in Covina, she picked up her cell phone and called her soul mate of 30 years to get some firsthand details.
She didn't realize her friend was among the victims.
Sylvia Pardo and eight of her immediate family members died late Christmas Eve when Pardo's ex-husband donned a Santa Claus suit, burst into a holiday party on a shooting rampage and then torched his former in-laws' home.
Police said later that Bruce Pardo likely planned to kill his own mother and his wife's divorce attorney as well before fleeing, but he suffered third-degree burns in the fire and committed suicide at his brother's house.
Jauregui still calls Sylvia Pardo's cell phone every day. She knows she will never get a call back, but she needs to hear her friend's voice, a cheerful message that's full of the laughter that defined her personality and their friendship.
Sometimes Jauregui leaves a message — part therapy, part habit.
"I have to live with her death and now I have to live with how it happened," said Jauregui, who was close to her friend's whole extended family. "It replays in my mind, that night — I just picture it. And I can't run to her parents, I can't run to her sister. There's no one left."
Jauregui, 43, first met Sylvia Pardo when the two girls were 13 and growing up in Monterey Park, just east of Los Angeles. She accompanied her friend's large family on annual camping trips to Sequoia and King's Canyon National Park and spent weekends dancing with her at disco clubs and house parties in the San Gabriel Valley.
The two kept in touch into adulthood and remained inseparable. Sylvia Pardo would call Jauregui every day on her way home from her job in El Monte as an administrative assistant at a flower-breeding company, and the two women saw each other regularly for shopping, drinks and dinners.
When Pardo met a new man, a tall, handsome electrical engineer, Jauregui said her friend was immediately smitten. She was attracted by Bruce Pardo's good looks and his education and loved that he was talkative and had a good sense of humor. Jauregui and her husband went on double dates with the new couple and found him charming and sweet.
The relationship progressed quickly, Jauregui said, and the two were married in January 2006. In photos, the two are grinning and cuddling by a swimming pool — Bruce Pardo looking fit and tan — or posing in formal attire at a fancy dinner.
But almost immediately after the wedding, things changed. Jauregui said her friend would call her distraught and said that her husband had become withdrawn and indifferent within months of their nuptials. He resisted opening joint bank accounts and insisted that they keep their money separately. He was no longer affectionate or attentive, she told her friend, and seemed to expect her to provide for her three children from previous relationships without any help.
"She told me, 'I don't think he loves me anymore,' and I said, 'Just ride it out and we'll see,"' Jauregui said. "But it didn't get better — they just kept growing apart."
The final straw, Jauregui said, was when Sylvia Pardo discovered tax papers that indicated her new husband had a son from a previous relationship that he hadn't told her about. She confronted him and he denied it, so she called his mother, who told her Bruce Pardo had a son who was severely disabled after falling into a pool and almost drowning.
Bruce Pardo was supposed to have been watching the boy when the accident occurred, his mother told Sylvia Pardo.
The revelation devastated Sylvia Pardo — who had hoped to have a child with him — and she told her husband she wanted a divorce. He barely reacted, she would later tell Jauregui, and calmly moved her belongings to the curb and told her to move out.
"How can you marry somebody and not know a secret, that there was a child, a hidden child?" Jauregui said. "She thought she was his first wife and would have his first child. She wanted his child."
After Sylvia Pardo moved out, she talked less and less about her estranged husband but the two women were closer than ever. Jauregui last saw her friend four days before she died — and two days after her divorce was finalized.
The two women and another friend spent all day shopping in Chino Hills before going for drinks and dinner and then attending a company party at Sylvia Pardo's brother's house. All of Sylvia Pardo's extended family was there, Jauregui recalled, and they huddled around a fire pit together eating pozole and reminiscing about old times as the party rolled on around them. Sylvia Pardo was looking forward to putting the divorce behind her and they made plans to spend New Year's Eve together.
"She really reveled in the fact that we'd been friends 30 years. She said, 'Isn't that special? Isn't that great?"' Jauregui said.
The family invited Jauregui, her husband and their two teenage children to their traditional Christmas Eve bash in Covina, but at the last minute Jauregui and her husband decided to attend midnight Mass instead.
Jauregui now shudders when she thinks how things could have turned out differently. She keeps tracing the floor plan of her best friend's childhood home in her mind, wondering where she was when she was gunned down — and knowing she wouldn't have been far from her soul mate's side.
"If he didn't care about her or her mom and dad, he certainly didn't care about me. We wouldn't have made it out alive, we wouldn't have had a chance," Jauregui said, mascara streaking down her cheeks from her tears.
"It just goes through your mind: What was she thinking at that moment when she looked in his eyes?"