The family of a man accused of leading police on a chase and deadly shootout outside a Silver Lake Trader Joe’s, before taking dozens of people in the store hostage, spoke out on Sunday.
According to police, 28-year-old Gene Atkins took more than 40 customers and employees hostage at the grocery store on Hyperion Avenue on Saturday afternoon. Police would later confirm a store manager died in the shootout with police, while Atkin’s grandmother was initially left in critical condition and seven other people — including him — suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
It all unfolded after Atkins allegedly led police on a pursuit that started in South L.A. and ended at the Trader Joe’s store less than 10 miles north.
The events that led to that chase came as a shock to Atkins’ family, as they told KTLA a day later.
“I really just don’t even know what to say because it’s like, this just happened yesterday,” said Atkins’ cousin, Charleo Egland. “I can’t believe he did it.”
Hours before the deadly standoff with LAPD, Atkins was in South L.A. at his 78-year-old grandmother’s home. He got into some sort of domestic dispute with her, police said.
Egland said the conflict had to do with Atkins’ girlfriend being at the house.
“His grandma didn’t want her over there,” she said. “And I think when the grandma said to him, you know, about the TV being on and she probably told him the girl had to leave — that’s what triggered it.”
Gunfire broke out at the home and Atkins’ grandmother, Mary Madison, was left with several gunshot wounds. Police initially said she was in critical condition as she was rushed into multiple surgeries.
Her family later said she was in stable condition and expected to survive.
A woman at the scene was also injured by the gunfire. He kidnapped her as he fled the scene in his grandmother’s Camry, police said.
Shots could be heard as Atkins raced from the scene inside the sedan, according to Linda Brown, Madison’s niece who was just arriving home at the time. She said she immediately called 911 and gave a description of Atkins and the vehicle.
“It’s very heartbreaking because, out of my wildest dreams, I never would have thought this would happen,” Brown said.
Several LAPD patrol cars raced after Atkins, traveling north into Silver Lake before he crashed into a light post outside the store. Gunfire was in the air in the last moments of the chase and even as Atkins jumped out of the car after it crashed, witnesses told KTLA.
He entered the store and a standoff lasting just over three hours ensued. By the end of it all, after he surrendered around 6:30 p.m., authorities said a woman was killed while at least nine others were injured — including those before the chase.
Egland said Atkins lived a troubled life, living with his grandmother who had raised him since he was a child. She said he would sometimes get into disputes with the older woman, but she still never expected him to inflict such violence. She also said she saw a gun in his bedroom before.
“And the gun was under the pillow, but I didn’t think nothing of it,” she said. “I didn’t think he would use it to shoot his grandma.”
The family said they extend their condolences to the woman killed and all the other victims.
Authorities have yet to release the name of the slain victim, but family members have identified her as Melyda Corado, the Trader Joe location’s store manager.
A GoFundMe campaign was started Sunday to help Corado’s family pay for the funeral costs.