LA Gunman Dead After Killing Three in Home and SWAT Officer

By: Thomas Watkins AP
By: Thomas Watkins AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A gunman killed three apparent relatives and a veteran SWAT officer and wounded another officer in the face before police shot him to death early Thursday in a home that erupted in flames during a long standoff.

Police Chief William Bratton said investigators going through the house afterward believed there may be an additional victim inside and so "we are even at this stage of the game not certain how many victims we have."

Two other SWAT officers received minor fragment wounds in a barrage of gunfire, Bratton said.

There was no immediate explanation of what triggered the bloodbath in the modest San Fernando Valley home, leading to the first line-of-duty death in the 41 years of the Los Angeles Police Department's elite SWAT team.

The unidentified gunman was killed about 11 hours after barricading himself in the house and telling police in a 911 call he had killed three relatives, police said. Those three victims' identities were not immediately known.

The slain officer was Randal Simmons, 51, who left a wife and two children. His colleague James Veenstra, 51, was in stable condition after surgery, said Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell. Veenstra's wife is a police captain.

"Today's a sad and tragic day here in the city of Los Angeles," said an emotional Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who revealed that both officers, 20 year veterans of SWAT, were assigned to protect his children last year.

Veenstra had three hours of surgery at Northridge Medical Center to remove fragments of the bullet that went through his lip and shattered his jaw, said Dr. Gabriel Aslanian.

"There was significant splintering of the left part of his lower jaw, so he will require subsequent reconstructive surgery," the trauma surgeon said.

Veenstra's prognosis "should be very good," Aslanian said, but he said the officer was fortunate because the bullet could have gone into his brain or brain stem.

"It could have been a fatal shot," he said.

Capt. Michelle Veenstra told KCAL-TV her husband was doing well but his mouth was wired shut.

"He's exactly what we all expect a police officer to be," she said. "He's a man of honor, integrity and strength. He lays his life down on a daily basis for all of Los Angeles."

Bratton said entering the home was a proper SWAT tactic.

"If there's a belief that a hostage is in danger, they will seek to make entry ... SWAT did what we would have expected them to do," the chief said.

A SWAT team surrounded the house minutes after the 911 call about 9 p.m. Wednesday. About three hours later, officers entered the one-story home and were met with a barrage of gunfire, authorities said.

Inside, they found two males dead and another who might have been alive, Assistant Chief Michael Moore said.

After the two officers were shot, police retreated with their wounded colleagues and the other person, who was pronounced dead outside.

Police did not identify the three men, but Moore said they might have been related to one another or to the family that lived in the house.

Authorities then located family members of the gunman who asked him to surrender.

"Unfortunately the suspect had absolutely no contact with us, made no effort to surrender," Moore said.

Police called to the gunman over loudspeakers, said Marcy Spencer, 35, who lives across the street and was evacuated at about 1:30 a.m.

"They said ... 'You need to answer the phone. We need to talk to you. I hear the phone ringing. Pick it up,"' Spencer said.

Hours later, police lobbed tear gas into the home and hit it repeatedly with a battering ram.

Around that time, a woman ran from the rear of the residence and was rescued. Police believe she had been hiding in the home during the entire ordeal.

Her name or possible relationship to the suspect was not released.

Police said the suspect used mattresses to hide as they shot tear gas inside the home and mechanically moved walls to find him.

He made "every effort in our mind to further attack officers and ambush us," Moore said.

Less than 90 minutes later, the house was on fire. The blaze could have started when a stun grenade was thrown inside, police said.

The gunman died in another exchange of gunfire.

"When you look at the amount of shots fired and the threat to this community, we're very thankful SWAT intervened," McDonnell said. "It could have been much worse."

McDonnell described Simmons and Veenstra as easygoing, focused and professional.

"You wouldn't find two guys in better physical condition, two guys who are better tacticians. They are the ideal, if you will," he said.

LAPD spokesman Richard French said the 911 tape would not be immediately released.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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