A 27-year-old woman killed in a shootout at a Silver Lake Trader Joe's Saturday was struck by LAPD gunfire, Chief Michel Moore announced at a news conference Tuesday.
Assistant Manager Melyda Corado was trying to get out of the Trader Joe's as a man who had led police on a chase from Hollywood to the store along Hyperion Avenue was exiting a stolen vehicle and shooting at police while trying to get inside.
As suspect Gene Atkins was firing rounds at police with a semiautomatic pistol and as officers were returning fire, Atkins and Corado were struck, Moore said.
Corado was shot once in the arm by one of two officers who were firing at Atkins, Moore said witness statements and evidence at the scene showed. The bullet "moved through her body," Moore said, and she collapsed inside the store. She was eventually moved outside by others, was treated, but "tragically" died as a result of her injury, the chief said.
He expressed condolences to the victim's family during the news conference and called the shootout a "devastating ordeal."
"On behalf of myself, and the men and woman of this department, I want to express my deepest condolences and sympathy to her family and to everyone who knew her," Moore said about Corado. He added that he spoke to both officers involved in the shooting, who are "devastated." He explained that the officers fired at Atkins in defense of their lives and in attempt to prevent Atkins from harming others.
"This is a heartbreaking reminder of the split-second decisions that officers must make every day, and it is also a sobering reminder of the destruction that a lone individual with a handgun can make," the chief said.
After the shooting, Atkins, 28, barricaded himself inside the store with people still inside and the incident turned into an hourslong hostage situation. He allegedly threatened people inside and continued firing at officers outside. Store employees and customers were slowly let out until Atkins eventually surrendered to police. He was taken to a hospital for treatment. He faces more than 30 charges including murder and attempted murder, Moore said Tuesday.
Atkins had apparently been involved in a dispute with his grandmother and a 17-year-old woman in South Los Angeles earlier Saturday, when he allegedly shot both women. They are recovering from their wounds.
Atkins then allegedly fled the scene in his grandmother's car with the younger victim, who was shot in the head. Police eventually caught sight of him at Cahuenga and Sunset boulevards. At some point, Atkins allegedly started firing at police, breaking the back window of the stolen vehicle.
Police did not begin shooting at Atkins until he crashed into a light pole outside the Trader Joe's. Moore released police video showing part of the pursuit, the crash and part of the shootout.
He said the investigation is ongoing and he will continue to review the evidence before making any decision regarding the involved officers. Moore said the officers will be identified later this week, but described them as young and "solid." One has two years on the job, and the other has been with the force for six years, he said.
The chief said the officers were doing their jobs defending the city, and he is relieved more people didn't die as a result of Atkins' "violent rampage."
"As chief of police, I believe it’s what they needed to do in order to defend the people of Los Angeles, and defend the people in that store, and defend themselves," Moore said. "I am truly sorry. As a father, as an individual, it is unimaginable the pain of the Corado family and everyone who knew her. And we share that pain today."
Atkins is being charged with murder, kidnapping, fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle while driving recklessly, grand theft of an automobile driving or taking a vehicle without consent, discharge of a firearm with gross negligence, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, and assault with a firearm, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
He also faces two counts of attempted, willful, deliberate and premeditated attempted murder, four counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, four counts of assault on a peace officer with a semiautomatic firearm, and 13 counts of false imprisonment of a hostage.
Prosecutors explained that Atkins is being charged with murder because his actions led to Corado’s death.
His arraignment was postponed to Aug. 14 and his bail was set at $18.8 million.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.