Chief: Silver Lake Trader Joe's Manager Was Killed by LAPD Gunfire
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A Trader Joe's store assistant manager was killed by gunfire from Los Angeles police officers during a chase and shootout with a suspect in Silver Lake Saturday.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that investigators have determined that one of two officers accidentally shot 27-year-old Melyda Corado while engaging in a shootout with the suspect, 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins.
"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."
According to Moore, Atkins' car had slammed into a light pole outside the entrance of the Trader Joe's, located in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue.
Upon hearing the crash, Corado was one of several people who ran to the front door of the store, at the same time that an armed Akins himself ran towards the entrance.
"As he did so, witness statements and physical evidence from the scene support that Atkins fired multiple rounds from a semiautomatic pistol at the officers," Moore said. "The two Los Angeles police officers who had been pursuing Atkins returned fire in defense of their lives and to protect Atkins from harming other individuals."
The officers fired eight rounds in returning Atkins' gunshots, Moore said.
The fatal bullet first hit Corado's arm, then entered her body.
Atkins appeared in court Tuesday to face more than 30 charges, including one count of murder, six counts of attempted murder, 13 counts of false imprisonment of hostages and one count of felony evading. His arraignment was postponed to Aug. 14. His bail was set at $18.7 million.
The slaying is attributed to Atkins even though he did not fire the fatal bullet because he is held to have caused the entire situation.
Moore also released dash-cam video leading up to the chase. Watch it below.
Before Saturday's shootout at Trader Joe's, Atkins allegedly shot and wounded his grandmother, who remains hospitalized, and 17-year-old girlfriend. He then led police on a chase, ending at the store.
The Trader Joe's store remained closed Monday, while a memorial of signs and flowers in memory of Corado continued to grow outside the building.
Although Atkins was booked on suspicion of murder, he could potentially face charges including attempted murder for the roughly 1:30 p.m. Saturday shooting of his 76-year-old grandmother -- Mary Elizabeth Madison -- in the home they shared in the 1600 block of East 32nd Street. Authorities said the woman was shot as many as seven times and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Atkins' cousin, Charleo Egland, said she didn't know exactly what prompted the shooting, but said the grandmother did not want Atkins' girlfriend in the home, and that likely led to a fight that ended with the shooting.
Police said Atkins' girlfriend was also wounded in the shooting, and Atkins forced her into his grandmother's car then drove away with her in the passenger seat.
Using a LoJack system, police traced the 2015 Toyota Camry sedan to the Hollywood area and gave chase, leading to Silver Lake, where Atkins crashed the Toyota into a power pole around 3:30 p.m. in front of the Trader Joe's supermarket, Moore said.
Atkins got out of the car and ran into the store, firing toward officers as he ran, police said.
A short time later, a woman now known to be Corado was seen being dragged away from the store's entryway and then unsuccessfully treated by paramedics trying to revive her.
Moore said about 40 people were in the store when Atkins entered. As Atkins ran inside, employees and customers inside scrambled for cover.
Some were seen escaping through a window toward the rear of the business and crawling down a ladder to safety.
Police were also seen carrying several children away from the building.
Atkins' girlfriend, who had been in the passenger seat of the Toyota when it crashed in front of the store, was taken to a hospital in fair condition. Fire officials described her as a 20-year-old woman.
Police amassed outside the store, and around 5:30 p.m., at least three people who appeared to be customers came out of the store with their hands in the air -- apparently hostages who were released or shoppers who had managed to elude the gunman.
Atkins surrendered at about 6:30 p.m. He was taken to a hospital to be treated for a gunshot wound to his left arm.
Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department said paramedics treated 10 people at the scene of the Trader Joe's, including Atkins, his girlfriend and Corado. A 12-year-old boy, a 41-year-old woman, a 70-year- old woman and an 81-year-old woman were hospitalized with minor injuries and listed in fair condition, Stewart said. Three other people were evaluated, but declined to be taken to hospitals.
Moore returned to the crime scene Tuesday to be among the mourners.
"This is about, frankly, an opportunity to pay some respects to a family and to a loss," Moore said, appearing to become emotional at times. "This young lady, by every description, had so much to live for, and to a father that has lost, I'm sure it's (indescribable)."
Reaction to the revelation that officers had accidentally killed Corado was mixed.
"I kind of blame the police because they were shooting directly towards the store," nearby business owner Peter Hakopyan said.
Hakopyan told CBS2 he knew Corado and witnessed the shootout.
"It's a grocery, and there's people around," Hakopyan added. "I would think the police would have more restraint."
Still, some appreciated the precarious situation in which the officers found themselves.
"The police did what they felt they had to do in the moment. They couldn't know," said longtime Silver Lake resident Miranda Birch. "I think it's tragic, but I think it's a mistake to blame the police."
A GoFundMe page set up to help cover Corado's funeral expenses had raised nearly $25,000 as of midday Monday.
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