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How did Arden-Arcade church shooter get the gun he used to kill 3 daughters?

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office has said little publicly about what investigators have learned.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The father who fatally shot his three daughters and a man at an Arden-Arcade church this week repeatedly threatened to kill his estranged girlfriend and scared their girls so much they cried and one bit off her fingernails, according to a restraining order that was supposed to keep him away from guns and bullets.

But 39-year-old David Mora had both when he showed up Monday for a supervised visit with his daughters, ages 13, 10 and 9. He shot them, the chaperone he and his ex-girlfriend had agreed could oversee the weekly visits, and then himself.

The victims were identified as Samantha Mora Gutierrez, 10; Samarah Mora Gutierrez, 9; Samia Mora Gutierrez, 13; and Nathaniel Kong, 59.

On Tuesday night, neighbors who didn't know the girls organized a vigil to allow those who did know them to mourn.

The youngest, Samarah, was described as a kind and loyal friend.

"If I didn’t have anyone to play with, she would be there for me, and if I got sad or hurt, she would be the one to help me," said Estella Hernandez, who was one of many at the vigil.  

The middle child, Samantha, was described as a big reader.

"She struggled with reading, but she always had a book in her hand. She was always eager," said Marissa Sandoval.

The oldest sibling, Samia, also left her mark on many as well.

"I feel very blessed to know that I knew them," Sandoval said.

An elder at the Church in Sacramento said Kong was an "incredibly loving Elder and Leader" at the church.

"He was a PILLAR at our church! He was selfless! He was never judgmental towards the less fortunate. He LIVED in his calling according to God's purpose!" said Alfredo, an elder with the church who did not want to provide his last name, in a message to ABC10.

RELATED: 'Blessed to know that I knew them' | Three children in Arden-Arcade church shooting identified

The violence at The Church in Sacramento, a nondenominational Christian place of worship, raised troubling questions: How did Mora get a gun? Why didn't his arrest a week earlier on felony charges impact the visitation? And what pushed him over the edge to commit such a heinous act two days before his middle daughter turned 11?

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office has said little publicly about what investigators have learned.

"We are not disclosing the type of weapon at this time. How he came to possess a firearm will be part of the investigation," Sgt. Rodney Grassmann said in a text message.

"The legal system failed"

Last May, when Mora filed a response to his ex-girlfriend's request for a restraining order, he checked a box attesting that he did not own or have any firearms. Law enforcement officials generally take such statements at face value unless they have reason to believe otherwise. In those cases, they might seek a search warrant to verify.

The circumstances prompted promises from California state lawmakers to look for gaps in what advocates say are already the nation's strictest gun regulations.

"The shooter was barred from owning guns and in most cases where the court has ordered supervision, it is likely to be a connection to domestic violence. How did this happen? Is there a loophole in law that we need to correct?" Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gipson asked.

"The legal system failed. We need to do better," Democratic state Sen. Susan Rubio said.

Rubio noted that lawmakers tightened visitation requirements and the state's domestic violence law last year. But she said the slayings show "we have more work to do. Law enforcement, judges, advocates and legislators need to work together to close the gaps in the legal system."

Court documents paint a disturbing picture of verbal and physical abuse inflicted by Mora on his family.

Last April, his ex-girlfriend said she called police after he became aggressive and threatened suicide. Police referred him for a weeklong psychiatric hold and his ex-girlfriend and their three daughters then moved out of the Sacramento home where they lived with Mora.

RELATED: Everything we know about the Arden-Arcade church shooter

Mora "is a very jealous person," the woman wrote in her request for the restraining order. "He threatened to kill me if he ever caught me cheating."

"I am scared and nervous. I am afraid (Mora) is going to hurt me. I do not want to return home," wrote the woman, whose name was withheld by The Associated Press because she was abused. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Mora, who also was identified as David Fidel Mora Rojas in court papers, was arrested last Wednesday in Merced County, south of Sacramento. He was taken into custody on charges of resisting arrest, battery on a California Highway Patrol officer and driving under the influence.

Credit: Merced County Sheriff's Office
The Sacramento County Coroner's Office identified the shooter as David Mora Rojas, 39. This photo is from his Feb. 22 arrest in Merced County.

It was not immediately clear whether Mora's arrest would have changed his visitation rights, or if the family court that granted the five-year restraining order was made aware of the charges.

Lisa Henry, a volunteer leader with California Moms Demand Action, which supports gun restrictions, said the slayings are "a tragic reminder of the importance of disarming domestic abusers."

Research by the affiliated advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that a current or former intimate partner or family member was among victims in at least 53% of shootings that killed four or more people in the United States from 2009 to 2020. The deaths of nearly three in four children killed in mass shootings were related to domestic violence.

Faith Whitmore, chief executive of the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center that provides services to victims of domestic abuse, said the girls' mother sought help through the agency last April. A case manager and an attorney worked with her to obtain the restraining order.

Whitmore said their organization will now push for their other clients to have visits supervised by professionals, and they plan to seek out funding to cover the costs.

The chaperone killed was identified as Nathaniel Kong, 59, who was an official with the church and who had served Mora with the restraining order last year.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.

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