It began as a routine call for Long Beach firefighters: A fire alarm had gone off before dawn Monday at an 11-story housing complex for seniors.
As crews made their way to Covenant Manor, more details started to come in. There had been an explosion and a fire. People smelled gasoline. When firefighters arrived, they noticed windows were blown out on the second floor, the sprinklers activated.
At 4:08 a.m., 19 minutes after they responded to the fire alarm, gunfire erupted. Capt. Dave Rosa, a 17-year veteran of the Long Beach Fire Department, was shot and killed. Firefighter Ernesto Torres and an elderly man who lives in the building were wounded.
Police officers detained a 77-year-old resident and took him to headquarters for questioning. Thomas Kim was later booked on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson, Police Chief Robert Luna said. He is being held on $2-million bail.
As investigators worked to piece together a motive, emergency responders across Southern California mourned the loss of one of their own.
“Long Beach really lost a hero today,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “We all know that Capt. Rosa was well-loved in Long Beach among his peers, but also in the community as well.”
Firefighter Jake Heflin, a department spokesman, said he worked on a paramedic unit at Station 9 with Rosa early in his career, about 16 years ago.
“He was somebody you always wanted with you. He was a firefighter’s firefighter.… He always had your back. He would always take care of you,” Heflin said. That was evident on Monday, he said, when Rosa “was first through that door.”
“This is a tough day,” Fire Chief Mike DuRee said, his voice choking and his eyes welling with tears.
Rosa, 45, is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 25 and 16. As news of his death spread, neighboring agencies offered their support.
“Capt. Rosa was a hero doing what all first responders are called to do — help those in need during their time of need,” tweeted Michel Moore, the Los Angeles mayor’s choice to be the city’s next police chief.
Rosa and Torres were shot near the unit where the blast occurred, officials said. Both were taken to St. Mary Medical Center. Torres, who is 35 and joined the department 12 years ago, was treated and released. The resident struck by gunfire remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
Hours after the shooting, streets near the facility were still blocked off with caution tape and squad cars. Curious residents asked each other if they knew what had happened.
Authorities found a revolver at the scene, along with two suspicious devices that the Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad rendered safe. Flammable liquid, probably gasoline, was taken from the scene. When asked if the firefighters were ambushed by the shooter, Luna said: “That is definitely on the table.
“We’re going to be looking at that. That’s the environment we work at today, as law enforcement and firefighters,” he said. “You go to these scenes and you never know what’s on the other side of those doors. And these brave firefighters went through those doors, and unfortunately, they were met with gunfire.”
Covenant Manor has 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors and adults with disabilities, said James Park, a spokesman for HumanGood, the nonprofit that runs the facility.
Park said the property is one of 63 affordable-housing communities that HumanGood operates across the country.
About 80 seniors were evacuated from the facility, at Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue. Many were taken to nearby Covenant Presbyterian Church, and all were eventually bused to Silverado Park. Authorities said most residents would probably be allowed to go home late Monday night.
At 10:30 a.m., some sat on couches at the church, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. Church volunteer Ruben Lindley, 81, helped distribute food and water and said folks were in dire need of a place to rest.
“I knew right away that they needed my help, so I came,” Lindley said. “One person was really upset that he had to leave his home.”
Lindley helped escort the residents to buses to the park, where nurses were awaiting to help take care of them.
Natalia Hambartsumova, 85, has been living at the facility since 2013. She said that about 3:45 a.m., an emergency alert system woke her up. When she got to the second floor, she said, she saw firefighters and asked them what was going on.
“They told me everything will be all right,” she said.
Rob Langworthy, co-pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, arrived at the church about 7:30 a.m., and said residents urgently needed restrooms and rest.
“Many people have been up since 3:45 a.m.,” Langworthy said. He added that his church had extra wheelchairs and walkers for people who didn’t have time to grab theirs from their apartments. “We’re glad we could do what we did.”
About 1 p.m. Monday, a procession led Rosa’s body to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Overpasses on the 710 Freeway were adorned with American flags flying at half-staff. During the evening, a large crowd turned up for a candlelight vigil outside Rosa’s Station 10.