LOS ANGELES – After years of addiction, Matthew Hirsch was sober. He landed a stable job working overnight shifts at a 7-Eleven in Southern California, lived with his girlfriend in a nearby apartment and spoke to his father every day.
Around 4:15 a.m. Monday, a masked shooter gunned down the 40-year-old clerk inside the convenience store. Authorities say it was one of six robberies by the same man at 7-Eleven stores across the region, senseless attacks that left two dead and three wounded.
The tragedy left Hirsch's father reeling on Tuesday. Jim Hirsch had long feared his son's death would come from another heroin overdose.
“I’d walk into his room at night and see needles,” Hirsch told The Associated Press. “Do I throw him out to die under a bridge? Or let him overdose in the house?"
Still, he always had an open-door policy for “Matt” at the home where his son grew up. Matt eventually sobered up as "he slowly straightened himself out” more than a year ago, his father said. He began working at the 7-Eleven in Brea about six months ago, juggling his job and his recovery.
Jim Hirsch was glad his son was employed but worried about him working alone late at night.
“He hadn’t had time to enjoy a normal life,” his father said. “He goes through a struggle for goodness and it ends in a shooting.”
The robberies occurred in a five-hour span early on Monday. Following the deadly robberies, 7-Eleven Inc. urged Los Angeles-area stores to close Monday and Tuesday nights for safety.
Investigators aren't sure what led to Hirsch’s death in Brea, or what sparked the robberies in Ontario, Upland, Riverside, Santa Ana and La Habra. Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback said it doesn't seem coincidental that 7-Eleven was targeted on July 11 — or 7/11, the day when the company celebrates its anniversary.
Hirsch was shot to death after authorities believe the gunman earlier gravely wounded a customer in Riverside and then fatally shot Matthew Rule, 24, outside a Santa Ana store. After those three shootings, the suspect then shot two people at a store in La Habra before disappearing.
Rule’s aunt said his mother was too distraught Tuesday to speak to a reporter.
Armed robberies also occurred at stores in Ontario and Upland shortly before the shootings. Authorities in those cities on Tuesday confirmed that the crimes they were investigating are linked to the crimes at the other locations.
Authorities in Ontario, Brea and Upland shared images of a masked man wearing what appeared to be the same black sweatshirt with a hood over his head. The sweatshirt had white lettering with green leaves on the front.
The first robbery happened around midnight in Ontario, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. Then, about 45 minutes later, a gunman stole a few items and $400 to $500 in cash from a store in the neighboring city of Upland. About an hour later, the Riverside store was robbed and a customer shot and gravely wounded.
Another shooting occurred around 3:20 a.m. in Santa Ana. There, officers found Rule dead in the 7-Eleven parking lot. The victim did not work at the store, and surveillance video shows the suspect dropping items — believed to be the victim’s belongings while fleeing, police said.
About 40 minutes later, Hirsch was fatally shot and less than an hour later officers discovered two gunshot victims at a store in nearby La Habra. Those two victims are expected to survive.
News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.