5 dead -- including gunman -- in Santa Monica shootings
Los Angeles News Group
A wave of violence ripped through Santa Monica on Friday, with a series of shootings and a house fire that claimed five lives and injured several others, according to police and witnesses.
A man armed with an assault rifle went on a shooting rampage at multiple sites in Santa Monica on Friday, killing four people and wounding others before dying in a gunfight with police officers.
A police spokesman says five people, including the gunman, are dead. Police said earlier that seven people were killed, including the gunman.
The suspect, described as a white male about 25 to 30 years old, clad in all black with a bulletproof vest, shot at people seemingly at random, police said.
Two officials briefed on the investigation say the killings Friday began as a domestic violence incident.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the case.
The officials say the first two victims were the brother and father of the gunman. They were found in a burning home about a mile from the Santa Monica College campus where the gunman was killed.
Police said the incidents began with the fatal house fire at 2036 Yorkshire Ave. shortly before noon, followed by a series of at least five additional shootings in different locations, culminating in the gunfight with officers at the Santa Monica College library.
"A couple pops, it sounded like a balloon popping," said William Gelhaar, a West Los Angeles resident who was in the SMC library working in a study group when the shooting occurred. "Then I heard a couple more pops. I look up and there are girls screaming, there's shooting and I kinda look and there are other people behind him coming towards us. Everybody's panicking and you hear a couple more shots and I pushed the door open to get people out the back, grabbed a couple more people, got them out the back."
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said it appears the suspect was armed with an AR-15.
The AR-15 is a semi-automatic, military-style rifle and the type of weapon used when 26 children and adults were killed in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. It fires rounds as quickly as the gunman can pull the trigger.
Seabrooks said the department first got a call of shots fired in the 2000 block of Yorkshire, and when officers arrived they found the house on fire. They got additional calls of a possible carjacking, and then shootings as the suspect moved west on Pico Boulevard: one at 20th Street and Pico, another at Cloverfield Boulevard and Pico, one at 20th and Pearl streets, and he was then seen shooting at a passing vehicle and police vehicle near Santa Monica College.
The suspect exchanged gunfire with officers from the Santa Monica city and college police departments, fled onto campus, shot a woman on campus, then accosted people in the library and shot at them, Seabrooks said. He continued to shoot at the library, where officers engaged the suspect and killed him. Authorities did not identify the shooter or the victims.
"It appears those who were encountered on the street were random victims," Seabrooks said. "Those who were located on Yorkshire we're not quite certain that it's random, but it appears that it may not be. But the investigation will tell us that as we proceed."
The incidents happened about three miles from where President Barack Obama was attending a Democratic Party fundraiser, but the Secret Service said it appeared to be a local incident and the president and the event were not affected.
Three women with gunshot wounds were brought to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, two of them in serious condition, according to Dr. Marshall Morgan with UCLA. One died of abdominal wounds and the other underwent surgery, he said.
Three additional patients with less serious injuries were treated at the UCLA Santa Monica hospital, he said.
Jeff Furrows of the Santa Monica Fire Department said there was extensive fire damage inside the home where two bodies were found, and one of the wounded women was found with a gunshot wound in a car nearby.
Jerry Cunningham Rathner, who lives near the house, said she heard gunshots and came out onto her porch to see a man shooting at the residence. Soon, the building erupted in flames and was billowing smoke.
The gunman, dressed in black and wearing an ammunition belt, went to the corner and pointed a rifle at a woman in a car and told her to pull over, Rathner said. He then signaled to a second car, also driven by a woman, to slow down and began firing into the vehicle.
"He fired three to four shots into the car -- boom, boom, boom, right at her," said Cunningham, who went to the woman's aid and saw she was wounded in the shoulder.
"I can't believe she didn't have worse injuries," Cunningham said.
She said the gunman then abducted the woman in the first car and drove away.
Russell Mark Fine said his wife, Debra, 50, was driving her 2008 Infiniti west on Kansas Avenue when he saw the shooter firing gunshots near the corner of Yorkshire Avenue.
She braked to yell at the man to stop shooting, but he turned and shot at her car, shattering three windows and wounding her. She crashed into the curb on the south side of Kansas Avenue.
Debra Fine was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where she was expected to survive, her husband said.
"She was just trying to get the guy to stop," her husband said.
A woman was found with a gunshot wound in a car outside the burned home, which had extensive damage, Furrows said.
The two-year college is located near homes, strip malls, two schools and a church, roughly a mile from the beach. Much of the area, including the schools, was placed on lockdown for most of the day.
After the incident, many students were left stranded outside their school. Some said they had finals interrupted and they weren't sure how they would make up the exams.
"It was nerve-racking," said Stephanie Velasquez, a student who was locked out of her classroom. "I was shaking when the SWAT team came inside our classroom. They patted us down, they told us to leave everything, we had our hands up while they were escorting us out, it felt bad.
"We've been waiting for about six hours now ... we've been freezing this whole time and they basically told us that we can't get our stuff today, we have to come tomorrow. Everything is going to be locked in our classroom. I don't have my phone, I don't have my car keys. I don't know how I'm getting home."
SMC student Daniel Loren said he was in library when he heard several shots.
"Two or three seconds after I heard people screaming, 'Oh my God, he's got a gun, gunman!' That's where everybody just started running, so I grabbed my stuff and ran with everybody else," Loren said. "On my way out I turned around and saw him in the entrance standing with some kind of shotgun or rifle. It was a big gun. I was running out of the building with 20 or 30 people. We're hiding around campus because I didn't know if someone was waiting for us or something. Then we made our way to safety with cops."
SMC student Sean Cowley was also in the library when the gunman entered.
"I was studying, and I heard a couple of loud noises, looking back I know they were gunshots but I didn't think that at the time," Cowley said. "Then all of a sudden these girls come running through the library screaming that someone had a gun. I turned around to see what they were talking about and yeah there was a guy, I did catch a glimpse of the gunman before I ran away.
"He was tall, big hefty build, short black hair, he was dressed in black, I think it might have been body armor but I'm really not sure. He had sunglasses on.
"I was alive during Columbine and 'The Dark Knight Rises' shootings. You always hear about it but I never expected to be the one to experience it. I guess I should feel lucky that I got out when I did because I remember thinking as I was running away, if the gun had been fired, what if I was the guy he aimed for?"
Staff writers Mariecar Mendoza, Christina Villacorte, Josh Dulaney, Brian Charles, Brian Day and Abby Franklin, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Night Stalker Richard Ramirez dies of natural causes in Marin hospital
by Frank C. Girardot
Richard Ramirez, a Satan-worshiping serial killer dubbed "The Night Stalker" who terrorized Southland residents during the long, hot summer of 1985, died of natural causes Friday morning at a hospital in Marin County. He was 53.
A drifter who came to Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus after growing up in El Paso, Ramirez raped, tortured and butchered his prey in a crime spree that claimed victims from Orange County to San Francisco. The majority of those touched by Ramirez's brutality lived in sleepy suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley, but no one in California felt safe while Ramirez was on the loose.
The convicted serial killer, who apparently fell ill early Friday, was taken to Marin General Hospital from San Quentin's Death Row, where he had lived since the early 1990s.
"This is the end of a episode that was a terrible and horrible moment in the history of L.A. County," said Deputy District Attorney Alan Yochelson, who was a member of the prosecution team. "His crimes affected not just the victims, but for their survivors and their next of kin, it changed their lives forever."
Yochelson said he was surprised to hear of Ramirez's death and described the 1985 demonic crime spree as "random and meaningless."
Also surprised to hear of the Night Stalker's sudden death were many of Ramirez's surviving victims. Bryan Kneiding was just 14 when his grandparents, Maxon and Lela Kneiding, were fatally shot by Ramirez as they slept in their Glendale home on July 20, 1985.
Kneiding learned from a reporter that Ramirez had died, but soon began hearing from friends who knew of his connection to the Night Stalker case.
"They're all asking, 'Are you happy that he's dead? Does it give you closure?' And, no, I'm not happy about it," he said. "It doesn't change the fact that my grandparents are gone, that I've spent more of my life without them than with them.
"Today has been a very, very emotional day," he said. "It feels more like it just happened than it has at any other time during the last 28 years."
In 1989 a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Ramirez guilty of 13 murders and dozens of other felonies. The verdict came after a long and bizarre trial that taxed the patience of the judge, the jury, prosecutors and victims.
A heavy metal fan who was obsessed with the AC/DC album "Highway to Hell," Ramirez once used a victim's lipstick to draw a pentagram on her thigh. He frequently taunted detectives with Satanic messages and snippets of song lyrics left behind at his crime scenes.
"He was a lust killer who was high on cocaine," said Gil Carrillo, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detective who investigated many of the murders and hunted Ramirez, whom he described as a "crack-smoking drifter," during the summer of 1985. "The cocaine made him do some horrific things."
Ramirez didn't stick to a single weapon in his violent and bloody attacks. A variety of instruments were used, including guns, knives and hands.
In one instance, Ramirez beat 16-year-old Whitley Bennett of Monrovia with a tire iron. In another, he sodomized an eight-year-old who witnessed the shooting death of his father and rape of his mother at knife point.
Known as the "Valley Intruder" and "Walk-in Killer" before he was given the "Night Stalker" moniker, Ramirez frequently gained entry to his victims' houses through open sliding glass doors. Ramirez had a propensity to disable telephones, which linked many of the crime scenes. An early clue in the case involved a pair of Avia tennis shoes that left an imprint outside the window at one crime scene.
Witness descriptions of the suspect as a tall, Latino man with stained and crooked teeth also helped link Ramirez to many of the victims were bitten by a man with pointy and crooked teeth.
One victim had her eyes removed by the killer.
"It was the biggest and most bizarre case I ever saw," said Scott Carrier, a former investigator with the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner who was a member of the Night Stalker Task Force. "There was never a case like it before and I pray there won't be one ever again."
For residents of the Southland, recalling the timeline of Ramirez's activities during the middle of 1985 brings back memories of a summer spent behind locked doors and closed windows. Rumors spread.
In reaction to speculation about the nature of the Night Stalker's targets, residents resorted to buyng new security locks and burglar alarms, installing central air conditioning systems and even painting their houses a different color after it was rumored the killer was going after victims who lived in yellow houses close to the freeway.
Nightclubs and movie theaters saw business decline as residents chose to stay indoors rather than venture too far from home in the dark.
Ramirez told investigators he targeted Asians, who were migrating to the San Gabriel Valley in the mid-1980s.
"He liked Asians. He lusted after Asians," Carrillo said. "The San Gabriel Valley had Asians and they had stuff to steal."
Sandi Gibbons was a veteran court reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News and covered the Ramirez trial, before embarking on a long career with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. She recalled the fearful summer of 1985, when authorities began piecing together the series of brutal attacks and linked them to one serial killer.
"That was a very hot summer in L.A," said Gibbons, who recently retired from the DA's Office. "People were scared to death because there was a crazy killer wandering around ... I would be walking to the office and looking at the people around me and wondering, 'Is it that person? Is that the one?' "
Carrillo said that after a couple in Diamond Bar was attacked, his wife told him she was so frightened that she was leaving the area until he caught the Night Stalker.
As the manhunt heated up and the killings continued, investigators caught a break after linking a stolen car to Ramirez via fingerprint evidence. On Saturday morning, Aug. 31, 1985, Ramirez, clad in a black T-shirt, was spotted attempting to steal a car on Hubbard Street in Boyle Heights. Residents who shouted "El Maton" -- the killer -- chased him down, beating, then holding Ramirez, who proclaimed "It's me."
"I didn't know it was him," said Julio Burgoin, one of those who helped capture Ramirez. "To me, it was just anyone else."
It would be three-and-a-half years before Ramirez went on trial and four before he was given the death penalty.
The jury deliberated 22 days before convicting Ramirez on Sept. 20, 1989, of 13 murders and 30 other felonies, as well as 19 special circumstances that made him eligible for the death penalty.
Carrillo sat down several times with Ramirez after the trial was over and talked to him about the crimes.
"He laughed at, scoffed at the fact people were saying he liked yellow houses near the freeway," Carrillo said. "He was convinced the rumor was started by a paint company looking to sell product."
Ramirez also had some questions for Carrillo.
"He says to me, 'Why do you think I was so evil?' If I could answer that I'd be a doctor making more money," Carrillo added.
"The thing is, he said he knew he'd be evil when he about nine years old. He saw a neighbor washing her car in a T-shirt that got a little wet and he said when he saw it and thought about how it made him feel, he knew he was going to be evil."
The case inspired a true story movie titled "Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker."
Carrillo said during filming of the piece actor Gregory Cruz apologized for taking a "method approach" to his study of Ramirez and hoped Carrillo didn't find it too creepy.
"I told him, 'Don't worry, I'm a method cop. If you get out of line, I'll jam a gun in your ear.' "
FBI: Wife Tried to Frame Husband for Ricin Letters
by NOMAAN MERCHANT and DANNY ROBBINS Associated Press
Shannon Richardson had been married to her husband less than two years when she went to authorities and told them her suspicions: He was the one who had mailed ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatening violence against gun-control advocates.
When investigators looked closer, they reached a different conclusion: It was the 35-year-old pregnant actress who had sent the letters, and she tried to frame her estranged husband in a bizarre case of marital conflict crossing with bioterrorism.
Those allegations are detailed in court documents filed Friday as Richardson was arrested and charged with mailing a threatening communication to the president. The federal charge carries up to 10 years in prison, U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said.
Richardson, a mother of five who has played bit roles on television and in movies, is accused of mailing the ricin-laced letters to the White House, to Bloomberg and to the mayor's Washington gun-control group last month.
Richardson's court-appointed attorney, Tonda Curry, said there was no intention to harm anyone and noted that it's common knowledge that mail is checked before it reaches the person to whom these letters were addressed.
"From what I can say, based on what evidence I've seen, whoever did this crime never intended for ricin to reach the people to which the letters were addressed," Curry said.
According to an FBI affidavit, Richardson contacted authorities on May 30 and implicated her husband, Nathaniel Richardson. She described finding small, brown beans with white speckles — a description matching the key ingredient in ricin, castor beans — at the couple's home in New Boston, Texas. She also told investigators that she had found a sticky note on her husband's desk with addresses for Bloomberg and Obama, the affidavit said.
But she later failed a polygraph test, the document said, and investigators looking into her story found numerous inconsistencies. Among them: Nathaniel Richardson would have been at work when Internet searches tied to the letters were made on the couple's laptop and when the envelopes containing the letters were postmarked.
Finally, the affidavit says, in an interview with authorities on Thursday, Shannon Richardson admitted that she had received syringes and lye — a caustic chemical used in making ricin — in the mail; that she had printed the labels for the letters; and that she mailed them. However, she insisted her husband typed them and "made her" print and send them, the affidavit says.
No charges have been filed against her husband. His attorney, John Delk, told The Associated Press on Friday that his client was pleased with his wife's arrest and was working with authorities to prove his innocence.
Delk previously told the AP that the couple is going through a divorce and that the 33-year-old Army veteran may have been "set up" by his wife. In divorce papers filed Thursday, Nathanial Richardson said the marriage had become "insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities."
FBI agents wearing hazardous material suits were seen going in and out of the Richardsons' house on Wednesday in nearby New Boston, about 150 miles northeast of Dallas near the Arkansas and Oklahoma borders. Authorities conducted a similar search on May 31.
The house is now under quarantine for "environmental or toxic agents," according to a posting at the residence. Multiple samples taken from the couples' home tested positive for ricin, according to the affidavit. Federal agents also found castor beans along with syringes and other items that could be used to extract the lethal poison, the affidavit says.
Bloomberg issued a statement Friday thanking local and federal law enforcement agencies "for their outstanding work in apprehending a suspect," saying they worked collaboratively from the outset "and will continue to do so as the investigation continues."
Shannon Richardson appears in movies and on TV under the name Shannon Guess. Her resume on the Internet movie database IMDb said she has had small television roles in "The Vampire Diaries" and "The Walking Dead." She had a minor role in the movie "The Blind Side" and appeared in an Avis commercial, according to the resume.
Delk said the Richardsons were expecting their first child in October. Shannon Richardson also has five children ranging in age from 4 to 19 from other relationships, four of whom had been living with the couple in the New Boston home, the attorney said.
Nathaniel Richardson works as a mechanic at the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, Texas, a facility that repairs tanks, Humvees and other mobile military equipment. He and Shannon were married in October 2011.
A detention hearing for Shannon Richardson is scheduled for next Friday, court records show, and the government is requesting that she be held without bond.
The FBI is investigating at least three cases over the past two months in which ricin was mailed to Obama and other public figures. Ricin has been sent to officials sporadically over the years, but experts say that there seems to be a recent uptick and that copycat attacks — made possible by the relative ease of extracting the poison — may be the reason.
If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. If swallowed, it can shut down the liver and other organs, resulting in death. The amount of ricin that can fit on the head of a pin is said to be enough to kill an adult if properly prepared. No antidote is available, though researchers are trying to develop one.
Chicago Hacks its Way to Mobile-Friendly Public Safety Apps
Smartphones and mobile devices are changing how we interact with government bodies that keep us safe. While community policing in Chicago is nothing new, the ability for citizens to remotely interact with the people who help keep their communities safe certainly is. This means that city residents can engage in local public safety measures with arguably more ease than ever before.
This May, Chicago's community policing program, Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), partnered with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) to provide an opportunity for civic-minded programmers to enhance such efforts in Chicago. The “Safer Communities Hackathon,” hosted by Google at the company's Chicago offices, was convened to expand the technological arm of CAPS.
By bringing CAPS services to mobile devices, Chicago looks to start a new era for its long-running community policing initiative.
A Brief History: CAPS and Community Policing in Chicago
CAPS began in 1993 as a way for the city's police force to build partnerships with residents. At neighborhood CAPS meetings, officers and local residents identify community concerns, quality of life concerns and overall public safety concerns and collaboratively discuss ways to address them. The program initially started as a pilot in five Chicago police districts, then expanded citywide in 1994 due to its success. CAPS quickly became a national model for enhancing community interaction with police departments.
In January 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a restructuring of the program's operations. Rather than continuing to have CAPS managed from CPD's downtown headquarters, Emanuel moved to decentralize CAPS so that all operations are handled at the community level. Each Chicago police district now has a team to administer the program locally, which includes a CAPS Sergeant, two police officers, a community organizer, and a youth services provider.
Furthermore, the CAPS restructuring calls for increased use of technology in community policing.
“Commanders will be accountable for creating successful [local CAPS] programs, but we are also providing new tools and technologies to engage Chicagoans as well as gauge the performance of each program,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said during the announcement.
CLEARpath and the Safer Communities Hackathon
CAPS' most prominent tech tool is the CLEARpath application, first launched in 2007. CLEARpath provides the public with access to crime data, as well as schedules for CAPS meetings. Its other services include online crime reporting, local police beat news and information, and CLEARmap, a map-based web application that allows users to do searches for criminal activity by police beat, community, or other distinctions.
In the age of smartphones, CLEARpath is destined to play a larger role in CAPS' interactions with the public. However, to fully ensure CLEARpath's value, Chicagoans need to be able to recognize and use the application more easily.
The internet's migration from stationary desktops to portable devices has huge implications for community policing programs. Increased internet access means more people can instantly report community concerns online. With more concerns reported in real-time, officials can improve response times to these concerns—creating a positive feedback loop that can also serve to increase involvement in programs like CAPS.
This is where the Safer Communities Hackathon's main idea comes into focus. At the event, civic programmers were specifically challenged to make CLEARpath's services more accessible on mobile phones and devices.
Prior to the Hackathon, CAPS and the CPD released the CLEARpath Application Programming Interface (API) to fuel mobile app development. Armed with new data, the civic programmers who spent their Saturday hacking away at Google's offices produced many new and innovative products.
Taking first place was “CAPStagram,” an app that lets residents upload a picture to accompany their reported community concern. In second place, “CAPS by Text” lets residents submit concerns via text message. By focusing on text messaging, “CAPS by Text” functions on basic phones as well as smartphones, ensuring that those without smartphones are not left out. Many developers at the event actively focused on text-based apps for this reason.
Other tops apps were “CAPS Alerts,” which notifies users when crimes are reported nearby, and “CAPSure,” which helps users gather information about CAPS meetings. Not all apps were public-facing, either; some apps were developed to benefit CAPS operations. One in particular helps CAPS officers recruit and manage volunteers for CAPS-hosted events.
These “CAPS apps” are significant for multiple reasons. For one, they capture that aforementioned potential that mobile internet has to increase online reporting and involvement in CAPS programs. They also provide new avenues of communication with CAPS and the police not just for individual residents, but for local businesses, community organizers, neighborhood organizations, and other institutions.
Moreover, these products' cost-effectiveness cannot be overstated at a time when public budgets are tight. Although big changes are coming to CAPS, the program's restructuring is being done without increases to its budget. By crowdsourcing CLEARpath's API to Chicago's tech community, the City is efficiently finding ways to make new forms of communication possible.
This means that—in the age of mobile internet—innovative programs on our smartphones really can help cities accomplish more with less.