When Rachel David arrived at her Benedict Canyon home early Saturday morning after a night out, she thought the rows of flashing police cars were part of a film shoot, which is fairly common in the area.
She soon found out it wasn’t a movie set. Police said three people were shot to death inside a car and four wounded outside during a gathering in the 2700 block of Ellison Drive, a quiet cul-de-sac tucked away in a secluded neighborhood north of Beverly Hills. Authorities on Sunday identified the victims as Nenah Davis, 29, of Bolingbrook, Ill.; Destiny Sims, 26, of Buckeye, Ariz.; and Iyana Hutton, 33, of Chicago.
The shooting capped a deadly week in California. A gunman killed 11 people in a mass shooting in Monterey Park on Jan. 21, and two days later, another assailant fatally shot seven people at two farms near Half Moon Bay.
“I wait for my Ubers right at that corner,” David said Saturday morning, pointing at the intersection of Ellison and Arby drives, where there was a slash of yellow police tape. “Not anymore.”
Investigators on Saturday afternoon were still searching for a suspect or suspects, and gave little information about what happened or who was involved other than to say the attack — during which more than 30 shots were fired — was not random. Authorities towed from the scene a white Porsche SUV, and a black Mazda SUV that had bullet holes on both sides of the car and in the passenger-side window.
Sgt. Bruce Borihanh from the Los Angeles Police Department said the home was used for short-term rentals. Neighbors said the area in recent years has seen an influx of occupants. Several homes are listed on Airbnb and Vrbo, ranging from $600 to $7,500 a night.
“We called it a gathering, until we can interview some of the people that were here to determine exactly what kind of gathering it was,” Borihanh told reporters at the scene.
Capt. Jonathan Tippet, head of LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, said witnesses to the shooting and people who were at the home had left before police arrived. Neighbors reported seeing several cars driving away from the scene within minutes of the gunfire.
Many neighbors woke up to the sound of police helicopters circling overhead.
“Now you know why moms worry about their children when they’re out late,” said David’s mother, who declined to give her name.
“I just feel terrible,” she added, gesturing with her coffee mug toward the blocked-off street where the three victims’ bodies were still in the car.
She and David live around the corner from the crime scene with David’s grandmother, who has lived in the house as its original owner since the 1960s. For decades, it was a quiet neighborhood of longtime residents. In the last five years, as many of the original owners have died, many of the homes have been converted into rental properties, the women said.
“Literally, I don’t even lock my car at night, it’s so safe,” David said. “Even people trying to find our house can’t find it.”
An Ellison Drive resident who declined to give her name said she also woke up to the police helicopters and assumed they were looking for suspects involving a lesser crime, perhaps a robbery. Then her phone pinged a few hours later.
“My dog walker woke me up at 6:30 and said, ‘Oh my God, are you OK?’” the woman said. “Then I realized it was way more serious than someone getting their jewels stolen.”
She said several houses had recently undergone renovations and appeared to have been converted to short-term rentals.
“There are some party houses up there,” she said. “I’ve always been curious what was gonna happen up the hill.”
Frank Coraci, a film director who has lived in the neighborhood for the last 20 years, said he occasionally rents out his home. He’s had a tenant for the last eight months and now lives about 10 minutes away. When he heard of the shooting, he headed right over.
“It freaked us out, three people dead. I could have been walking my dog,” he said.
The cul-de-sac has been home to several celebrity occupants, Coraci said. A sleek modern mansion across the street from the murder scene is often rented out for high-end parties, he said. House parties at rented homes were common during the COVID-19 lockdown, he said.
Benedict Canyon is a favorite of celebrities because it feels quiet and secluded despite being just a short drive from the city, said Joel Gilman, a retired advertising executive who bought his house in 1971 for $58,000.
“It’s like you’re a million miles away, except the city and the valley are a five-minute drive,” Gilman said.
While Benedict Canyon once had a rustic air — some residents rode horses through the streets when Gilman moved in — the neighborhood has been transformed by investors building 10,000-square-foot homes to sell or rent, he said.
Gilman said he saw a listing for a home on the street where the shooting occurred whose rent was $100,000 a month.
He heard nothing Friday night, neither the sounds of a party or gunfire. Had there been a party, the sound would have been amplified through the canyon, Gilman said.
He was shocked that the suspect or suspects managed to escape, given the neighborhood’s dead ends and winding roads.
Benedict Canyon has been the scene of several high-profile murders over the years, including the 1969 Manson “family” killings and the 2000 murder of Susan Berman, who was shot in the back of the head by her best friend, real estate scion Robert Durst.
But “it’s really not typical,” said Samantha Anobile, a real estate agent, who lives down the street from the shooting scene.
One woman emerged from her house on Ellison Drive on Saturday afternoon to pick up a food delivery. She said she had just moved into the house a day earlier. She said she did not hear any gunfire and woke up to police swarming the street.
She did not expect a shooting on her block — “I mean, in Beverly Hills?” — but she said she was not particularly concerned.
“I’m from New York,” she said.