Stockton police were within arm's reach of three bank robbers who set off on a deadly escape rampage Wednesday in Stockton but couldn't use their weapons because hostages were directly in the line of fire, a witness said.
"They were so close, they were, like, 5 feet away from these guys and they couldn't get a shot because of the hostages," witness Jose Maldonado told KTXL Sacramento. "The women had their hands up. They were just petrified. They were so scared, they were crying. But I couldn't do nothing."
The robbery and ensuing police pursuit would continue for another hour. In a news conference Wednesday night, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said that three men armed with handguns and at least one AK-47-style assault rifle entered a Bank of the West in the 700 block of Thornton Road shortly after 2 p.m.
Witnesses reported that the men pointed their guns at tellers' heads and tied up a security guard who first managed to alert police.
The gunmen and three hostages – two female employees and a female customer – left the bank and got into one of the hostages' vehicles, an SUV.
Over the next hour, officers from multiple agencies followed the men through Lodi, Acampo and back into Stockton even as the robbers unleashed a "relentless" barrage of gunfire, Jones said.
CBS Sacramento identified the hostage customer as Misty Holt-Singh, who was killed in the conclusive gun battle when, police say, the robbers used her as a human shield.
In a statement, Bank of the West called the incident "tragic."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of our customer, to our employees and their families and to all of those involved. We can confirm that two of our employees were injured in the incident," the bank said. "The safety and security of our customers and employees is paramount, and of course, we are fully supporting law enforcement. We are providing counseling and assistance to all of our branch employees in the area and will support our injured team members throughout their recovery and beyond."
At Wednesday's news conference, Jones said the robbery, chase and shootout was "really one of the most dangerous, tense situations a police officer can ever go through."
The suspects shot 14 police cars, civilian vehicles and homes that they passed along the way.
"These suspects wanted no part of a peaceful resolution," Jones said. He noted that it was unclear when the final hostage was shot and by whom.
One of the gunmen was pronounced dead at the scene and a second died at a local hospital. They were 27 and 30 years old, respectively. Both were known gang members in Stockton, police said.
The surviving suspect was identified as Jaime Ramos, 19, of Stockton. He was booked on suspicion of homicide, kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder.
Police said they found three handguns and the assault rifle in the car.