LOS ANGELES – A man arguing with his grandmother was converted in a bizarre and deadly confrontation which ended with a supermarket employee killed and dozens of people hostage in a shop miles away.
Gene Evin Atkins, 28, was booked Sunday on suspicion of murder, after an explosion of violence that a relative said could be for the brewing of weeks.
Melyda Corado, 27, was shot to death Saturday at a Trader Joe’s market in the Silver Lake neighborhood after a gunfight that shattered the store’s glass doors, witnesses said.
“I’m sad to say that they did not create. My sister. My world’, her brother, Albert Corado said on Twitter.
On Sunday, the grieving family members, colleagues and customers remember Corado as a pleasant, hardworking and always smiling. A makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and notes grew on the sidewalk outside the store.
“Yesterday marks the saddest day in Trader Joe’s history as we mourn the loss of one of our own,” company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said in a statement.
The violence began when Atkins shot his 76-year-old grandmother several times at their South Los Angeles home, after she complained about the fact that he too much television, said a cousin, Charlene Egland.
Mary Elizabeth Madison was taken to a hospital in critical condition, but Egland said she underwent surgery and was improving Sunday.
Madison increased Atkins from the age of 7 and he was never violent towards her, but recently had seemed angry and distant, Egland said.
“He seemed to be not good for me,” Egland said.
For the last two or three weeks, the two argued about Atkins’ girlfriend, who was staying at their house, Egland said.
“They didn’t want the girl there any more,” Egland said.
Egland said she ran in the direction of the house when they heard about six gunshots. Another cousin, who lives in the house, came running from the porch and shouted to Egland, “I think Gene shot my mommy!”
The police said Atkins’ girlfriend was grazed in the head by a bullet, but the injuries are not life-threatening.
Egland ran to call 911, but Atkins allegedly forced his injured girlfriend in his grandma’s car and drove away.
A stolen car device helped police track the car to Hollywood, but Atkins refused to stop, police said.
During the chase, Atkins fired at the officers, blowing out the car’s back window, and there was more shooting before the car collided with a pole outside the Trader Joe’s, followed by a shootout with the police, chief of police Michel Moore said.
Customers and employees frantically dove for cover and barricaded themselves in storerooms and bathrooms as bullets flew.
Glass fragments injured a 22-year-old woman, who later took himself to a hospital for treatment, police said.
When he heard gunshots, Sean Gerace, who was working in the back of the supermarket, grabbed some of his colleagues, and the group made their way to the top as a storage room. He picked up a folding ladder and threw it through the window, and the help of his colleagues to escape to safety, he told KNBC-TV.
“I grabbed an emergency ladder, barricaded the hallway, picked up a weapon, put the ladder out the window and tried to get the attention of the SWAT officer,” Gerace told the tv station.
About three hours later, Atkins — who’d been shot in the left arm agreed to handcuff himself and walked out the front door, surrounded by four of the hostages. He was being held on $2 million bail Sunday, and it was not clear whether he had a lawyer to respond to the allegations.
A gun was found in the store, police said.
Trader Joe’s said the store — known by customers as a neighborhood hangout with great customer service — would remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Atkins, who has two daughters, bounced between various tasks, including working as a security guard, but was repeatedly dismissed, Egland said. His grandmother had tried to help him find a job and “was just trying to make him do better,” she said.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.