LONG BEACH, California. – A retirement home resident shot at firefighters who responded to a report of an explosion at the Southern California facility on Monday, the killing of a veteran fire captain and leaving a second fire fighter and another occupant were injured, the officials said.
His motive was not immediately known.
Thomas Kim, 77, was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson after Monday morning shooting in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles.
The shooting happened shortly after the fire brigade arrived at the 11-story retirement facility around 4 a.m. and found a number of windows blown out, activated the sprinklers, the smell of gas and a fire that they put out, authorities said. Firefighters were searching the building when the shots were fired, and the two firefighters were hit, Long Beach Fire Chief Michael DuRee said.
Fire Capt. Dave Rosa, who had worked for the department 17 years, died in a hospital Monday morning, DuRee said. He is survived by his wife and two children — ages 16 and 25, the chief said.
The other firefighter, Ernesto Torres, was expected to make a full recovery, DuRee said.
An elderly resident in the nursing home was also shot and was in critical but stable condition, said police chief Robert Luna.
“Long Beach lost a hero today,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.
Dozens of firefighters stood at attention and saluted as the flag draped casket with Rosa’s body was brought to a hospital Monday afternoon, and loaded into a coroner’s van. Community members waved American flags along the street outside the hospital, such as the procession of police and fire department vehicles escorted the van from the coroner’s office.
Luna said a revolver was recovered after Kim was taken into custody Monday morning. Researchers are still trying to determine Kim’s motive and were investigating whether he deliberately lured workers to the place to surprise them, Luna said.
“There is still a big puzzle trying to put together,” he said.
Investigators also found two “suspicious devices” when they arrested Kim and the name of the bomb squad “render safe,” Luna said.
Detectives still have “many questions about the devices that are found, and the defendant’s intent,” Luna said.
“That is the environment where we work today, as law enforcement and fire departments. You go to these scenes and you never know what is on the other side of the doors. And these brave firefighters went through those doors and unfortunately they were met with gunfire,” Luna said earlier Monday.
Pamela Barr, who lives in the building, said she was awakened by a fire alarm and do not panic, because false alarms are not uncommon. She tried to go back to sleep, but then learned what happened by watching TV news. Firefighters later evacuated the building and put the occupants on the buses.
“This is a lot to do,” said Barr, 73, she sat with her son in a car waiting to be allowed back into the tower, where she lives on the ninth floor on the other side of the building where the fire occurred.
Barr said that they had not heard of problems where residents of the facility, where they lived for seven years. They described it as clean, safe and well.
Gloria Ford, 58, who lives a few blocks away, was awakened by a screaming siren earlier and came to check the scene.
“I am very sad about. I’m sick,” she said about the death of the firefighter. “It’s just crazy.”
The residential tower in the neighborhood of downtown Long Beach, has over 100 apartments for low-income people age 62 and older and disabled adults older than 18 years, according to its website.
Long Beach is one of the most important port of the town with a population of more than 400,000.
Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.