Eight people have been killed and one critically injured after a gunman opened fire in a packed hair salon in a small California beach town, police said.

Six people were killed at the scene, while another two critically injured died a short time later in hospital, police said.

The suspected gunman, a white male, was arrested a short time later about 1km from the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, on the Pacific Coast Highway south of Los Angeles.

Local media reports said the gunmen was ex-military and had multiple weapons and was wearing body armor at the time of the shooting. Police could not confirm this, but said he was arrested “without incident.”

“He appeared cooperative, and did not resist our officers when he was detained,” said Sergeant Steve Bowles, adding: “We do feel confident at this point that we do have the single and only suspect in custody.”

Police initially responded to a 911 call reporting gunfire at the salon, in a strip mall just across from the ocean.

“Upon arrival we found six confirmed deceased people, along with three critically injured parties, which were transported to a local hospital,” said Bowles, spokesman for the Seal Beach Police Department.

“The officers identified the (suspect’s) vehicle as it was leaving the location,” Bowles told the TV station. “They followed it and made a traffic stop and took the driver into custody.”

Multiple weapons were found in his vehicle, he said, adding that the motive for the shooting was still unclear.

KCAL9 television reported the shooter was related to one of the hairstylists in the salon, but police could not confirm this. “There may be something to the motive as to a relationship with somebody in the salon. That is our assumption,” said a police spokesman.

The salon was packed at the time of the shooting, around lunchtime, with every hairdressing station apparently occupied, according to the police spokesman.

“We’re unsure at this point if he shot from the entrance and people as they were shot ran in seeking cover or seeking shelter, but we have fatalities throughout the salon.”

“There are survivors from inside the salon that escaped without harm,” he said, adding that all but one of the victims was inside the salon. “There was one casualty that occurred on the outside of the salon.

“We’re not sure if they were shot inside and went out to the vehicle,” said Bowles.

Police were working on the assumption that the gunman had some sort of connection to the salon, he said.

“At this point in time we do not know what he said, or if he said anything at all during the shooting or what his relationship with this salon (was),” he said.

The shooting is the most deadly ever in Seal Beach, a small town of 25,000 people some 30 miles south of Los Angeles.

A witness, Aria Lundeen, told how she looked out of her window to see the suspected gunman being arrested.

“They were telling him to get on the ground, get on his knees, he did. He said he couldn’t, he had a prosthetic knee, I believe,” she told KCAL9 television.

“They told him to put his hands behind his head, which he did, and he proceeded to calmly tell them that there were rifles in the front passenger side, I believe he said three. He said he had a knife in each pocket.”

Multiple shootings are an all-too-familiar occurrence in the US: only last week a gunman killed three people at a quarry in California’s Silicon Valley, while three were also killed in Carson City, Nevada in September.

Among the most notorious, and deadly shootings of recent years are the Columbine massacre in April 1999, when two teenage boys shot and killed 12 students and a teacher.

In April 2007 a student shot 47 people at Virginia Tech, killing 32 before he commits suicide, in the deadliest mass shooting in the US.

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