Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore says a store worker killed in a gunbattle before a suspect took hostages in a supermarket was hit by an officer's bullet. Moore told reporters Tuesday the suspect fired at officers Saturday after crashing a car outside the market and the officers returned fire.
Moore says the suspect, 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins, earlier shot and wounded his 76-year-old grandmother at their South Los Angeles home and fled in a car, taking with him a teenage girl who was grazed by a bullet.
Moore said two LAPD officers who had been pursuing the suspect "returned fire in defense of their lives" and to prevent him from "harming other individuals," reports CBS Los Angeles.
The chief says 27-year-old store employee Melyda Corado had run to the front of the store with others at the time of the crash and was near the suspect when she was shot by an officer's bullet.
"I'm sorry to report that we've now determined through our forensic investigation, that one of the officers' rounds struck Ms. Corado as she was exiting the market and was in close proximity to Atkins," Moore said. "Ms. Corado ran back into the store and collapsed behind the manager's desk."
In deciding whether to open fire, the officers had to consider whether the suspect in what was already a long-running series of violent events would become an active shooter in a market crowded with weekend shoppers, Moore said.
"That is the worst, worst decision that any officer ever wishes to have to make," the chief said.
Atkins was scheduled to be arraigned later Tuesday on numerous charges.
Grieving family members, co-workers and customers on Sunday remembered Corado as lively, hardworking and always smiling. A makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and notes grew on the sidewalk outside of the store.
"Yesterday marks the saddest day in Trader Joe's history as we mourn the loss of one our own," company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said in a statement.
The violence began when Atkins shot the grandmother several times at their South Los Angeles home after she complained about his having too many television sets on, said a cousin, Charlene Egland.
The grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Madison, was taken to a hospital in critical condition. Egland said she had surgery and was improving Sunday.
Madison raised Atkins from the age of 7.
Atkins, who has two daughters, bounced between several jobs, including working as a security guard, but had been repeatedly fired, Egland said.
His grandmother had tried to help him find employment and "was just trying to make him do better," she said.
Atkins' cousin Deshon Hayward told CBS Los Angeles their grandmother was attempting to speak at the hospital, trying to find out what happened.
"That was her baby," Hayward told the station. "He can't be in his right mind.[…] What's going on? What made you do this?"