A suspect has been arrested after allegedly firing shots in the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey Tuesday, in an incident that triggered an evacuation at the hospital and prompted a major response from law enforcement, officials said.
The incident began around 11:30 a.m. when the suspect began causing a disturbance at the hospital, located at 9333 Imperial Highway, according to Downey Police Department Chief Carl Charles.
When security approached the man — later identified as Lynwood resident Jesus Chavez — he threw a chair through a window inside a building, shattering the glass, Charles told reporters at mid-afternoon news conference. The situation escalated from there, with the suspect allegedly pulling out a handgun and opening fire.
Authorities have not been able to confirm how many shots were fired, with Charles only saying there were reports of six to seven.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which also responded to the incident, stated that Chavez "did fire rounds inside the building."
However, Downey police later said detectives on the case determined that, in fact, no shots had been fired inside the building.
Downey police officers initially responded to the hospital after receiving a report of a disturbance. Police received updated information about a possible active shooter at the facility while they were en route to the scene, according to Charles.
Officers confronted the suspect immediately and he surrendered without incident, the police chief said. Chavez was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats.
A handgun was recovered at the scene.
Though no one was injured, the incident created mass panic and prompted the evacuation of several hospital buildings as first responders combed each floor, looking for possible victims or any additional suspects.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene as the incident unfolded.
"I heard coming from the second level a lot of commotion, which was windows being broken. It sounded like people fighting,” said Liz Reyes, who was on the building's first level waiting to get a blood test at the time.
Another witness who worked in the lab recalled someone running into equipment, knocking it down. That action "alerted a lot of people to get up and go see what this was," the woman told KTLA.
Security then swept through the floor, telling people to lock the doors and ushering them back into a windowless back room.
"Security and the staff members started saying that is was 'code silver,' which means it’s an active shooting. That’s when they immediately locked all the doors and they sent us to the back of the laboratory section," Reyes said.
The witness said she didn't realize the severity of the situation until the code silver was issued.
"So then I told everyone, 'OK, calm down,' we need to get to the back and get out of the way of windows just in case," she recalled.
The woman added that she didn't hear any gunshots fired; Reyes, however, said she heard at least one gunshot.
Sky5 video over the hospital showed numerous law enforcement personnel at the scene shortly after noon.
Dozens of people who were cleared from the medical center could be seen marching out single-file, some with their arms up, the aerial footage showed. It was not immediately known how many people were evacuated from the building, but there appeared to be hundreds waiting outside in nearby locations.
Steve Moore, a former FBI agent, told KTLA that despite that fact that there didn't appear to be any indications that it was there was actual active shooter, law enforcement still has a "standard due diligence" to search the building and ensure there are no occupants inside.
“You think you got it resolved but you’re not going to know if you have it resolved until you search every single room and the suspect is obviously not giving them enough information to make them comfortable with the fact that he’s acting alone," Moore said in a phone interview.
He explained another challenge facing first responders is making sure that the potential shooter is not among the evacuees.
"One of the things shooters have done in the past is open fire, get a lot of casualties then drop their weapon and then run out, pretending to be a victim," Moore noted.
Active shooter and other emergency situations are something the city prepares for, conducting practice drills every three to six months, according to Downey Mayor Shawn Ashton.
"We do try and prepare for this as much as we can," he told KTLA. "We want to at least make that we're giving them the tools necessary to help them stay safe."
The hospital had completed one such training recently, according to Charles.
As the investigation continued, all appointments at the hospital for Tuesday have been canceled, Kaiser said in an emailed statement. The hospital will also be offering behavioral health services to those who were in the hospital at the time.
"The safety of our patients, employees and physicians are paramount," the statement read.
By 5 p.m., the hospital said it was working to reschedule all the canceled appointments. The facility and its emergency and urgent care departments, along with most of the Orchard Medical Office Building, had reopened by that time, the hospital said in a statement.
"The safety of our patients, employees and physicians are paramount, and we’re grateful there were no injuries," the statement read.
Police described Chavez as 34 years old, however, he was listed in L.A. County booking records as 33 years old.
Bail was set at $50,000 pending Chavez' initial court appearance, scheduled Thursday in the Downey branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court.
KTLA's Marissa Wenzke and Brian Day contributed to this story.