LOS ANGELES – “I shot at a cop,” the man with the gun and the blood dripping from a bullet wound in his left arm told one of the dozens of people he had held hostage in a Los Angeles supermarket.
In a gripping account Friday, reported by the Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian, one of the hostages describe how they and others survived the ordeal on an oppressively hot July 21 in the afternoon.
“I said to him,” There is always hope. I know that you have a good heart, and I know you don’t want to hurt anybody,'” MaryLinda Moss said she told Gene Atkins, as she put her hand on his heart.
“When you put your hand on somebody’s heart,” she explained, “the terrain. I tried to ground him, and manipulate him, yes, in the best way.”
They had connected after the 28-year-old gunman, still bleeding, asked for help, and Moss took the shirt she was wearing over her tank top and hit his arm. Another hostage, he introduced them to his belt for a tourniquet and Atkins, without ever having his gun down, satisfied.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Moss said he told her.
The police said officers chased Atkins to the store after he shot his grandmother during an argument earlier in the day, then abducted his girlfriend and fled. He crashed with his car against a light pole outside the Trader Joe’s in a trendy neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles called Silver Lake.
As he walked in the store, while the exchange of gunfire with officers, a 27-year-old store manager caught in the crossfire was hit by a police-agent of the bullet and is killed.
As his confrontation with the police stretched over three hours, Atkins shuddered at one point and Moss led to a stack of sweatshirts to get him. That is when she saw the store manager Melyda Corado lying in a pool of blood.
“‘That is not my fault,” she said Atkins told her. “‘It was the police.'”
At another point during the confrontation, Atkins released a hostage after the man told him he had his two children outside in his car. He took the man’s mobile phone before he left and police quickly called him on.
As she spoke, Atkins saw a SWAT officer on the roof of a nearby cheese shop with a gun on him.
“Everyone is now absolutely terrified,” recalled Moss. “Gene is screaming, and he says:” If you don’t get that guy of the roof, someone’s going to hurt and it will be your fault, just like it was with that other woman!'”
The officer backed off after Moss himself stepped into the line of fire.
Eventually, all four of the hostages were released. Moss convinced Atkins to agree to let her and the others him in handcuffs and walk together as the police would throw a pair of handcuffs inside of the door.
He is indicted for murder, attempted murder, false imprisonment and other crimes.
During the confrontation, he told Moss he wished they had met earlier.
“I needed someone to talk to,” he told her. The 55-year-old artist said she promised that she would visit him in prison.
“I mean,” she told Abcarian. “That is not to say that he is my ‘project’ or ‘ he is my friend, but I was willing to be present with him that day and I have to do that again.”