Vigil honors victims of Texas Christmas shooting

GRAPEVINE, Texas Thu Dec 29, 2011 1:46pm EST

1 of 4. Mourners hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Christmas day murder-suicide held at Parr Park in Grapevine, Texas December 28, 2011. The group gathered early in the evening at a park in this quiet suburb about a mile from the apartment complex where police said Aziz Yazdanpanah, 58, opened fire on Sunday morning and killed his estranged wife Fatemeh Rahmati, 56, and two children Nona, 19, and Ali, 14.

Credit: Reuters/Darrell Byers

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GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) - Six victims of a Christmas Day shooting rampage near Dallas were honored by more than 100 friends on Wednesday who wept and clung to each other as they shared their memories at a candlelit vigil.

The group gathered early in the evening at a park in this quiet suburb about a mile from the apartment complex where police said Aziz Yazdanpanah, 58, opened fire on Sunday morning and killed his estranged wife Fatemeh Rahmati, 56, and two children Nona, 19, and Ali, 14.

Toting two pistols and dressed as Santa, the gunman also shot and killed his wife's sister, Zohreh Rahmaty, 58, her husband, Mohamad Hossein Zarei, 59, and their daughter, Sahra Zarei, 22, before turning a gun on himself.

"Nona would not want harsh words said, only good things," said Allison Baum, Nona's best friend and the organizer of the event to remember the family of Iranian immigrants who had settled in the Dallas-Fort Worth area decades ago.

"This is a night of closure and a way to pay our respects," she added.

The family was beloved by the Iranian community in the Dallas area, according to long-time family friend Fran Hosseiny, who said she received a call from relatives of the victims in Iran on Wednesday morning.

"They were worried that no one was here to remember them," she said. "I told them they had so many friends and were so loved that no one will forget them."

Sahra's boyfriend, Jonathan Garcia, was among those who paid tribute at Wednesday's vigil. He was the last person to have contact with any of the victims through a text message sent by Sahra on Sunday morning.

"We were very close and had lots of plans," Garcia said of Sahra, who he said hoped to go to medical school after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington in the spring.

"I do know she left us happy, and I have no doubt about that."

Karim Ghoghaie, who said he had known the family for more than 30 years, told Reuters that relatives from London and Los Angeles arrived on Wednesday to claim the bodies, which will be buried at a private funeral in the Dallas area on Thursday.

The massacre rocked the usually festive Dallas suburb dubbed the "Christmas Capital of Texas" and known more for its tourism, Christmas season events, festivals and vineyards than for violence.

As friends prepared to remember the victims on Wednesday, new details from the ongoing police investigation emerged.

Search warrants released in the day identified two guns recovered from the scene as a Smith & Wesson 915 model 9 mm pistol and a Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol.

Police said they found one pistol in the hand of Yazdanpanah, who shot himself in the head, and another in the hand of his brother-in-law.

"We believe Yazdanpanah put the gun in Zarei's hand to make it look like he had shot them," said Grapevine Lt. Todd Dearing. "But we know that Mohamad was a victim just like the others."

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Bohan)

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