The manager at Bank of the West in Stockton volunteered to be one of three female hostages during a violent takeover this week that ended with one of the women and two robbers dead, prosecutors said Friday.
The three gunmen used the women as human shields after they robbed the bank's vault Wednesday afternoon, and took a Ford Explorer that belonged to one of them to engage police in a violent pursuit, said San Joaquin County Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Himelblau.
The women's presence prevented police from engaging the gunmen – identified as two members and one associate of the violent Norteño street gang – as they exited the bank. The men then led authorities on a dramatic chase for more than an hour. During the chaotic pursuit, the oldest of the three men fired an AK-47-style assault rifle at police out of the rear of the SUV, magazines of ammunition strapped to his body.
Three handguns and a "massive" amount of ammunition were recovered along with the rifle inside the Explorer.
Authorities did not identify the bank manager by name, but she was one of two employees taken hostage who was shot shortly after the chase began and either jumped or was pushed from the moving SUV.
A second was also wounded and fell from the SUV just before the chase concluded.
The third hostage, bank customer Misty Holt-Singh, was used as a human shield by the surviving gunman and shot to death, police said.
Because investigators have not found a car -- or a fourth suspect acting as a getaway driver -- tied to the robbers, it appears the men intended to take hostages the entire time, Himelblau said.
"At first, we thought it was a circumstantial issue," he said. "There's a hint of it….we're getting a good feeling that they might have done this before and in those cases, hostages were taken."
"That's our gut feeling, that this is their M.O.," he added.
At a news conference, Police Chief Eric Jones said the more than 20 Stockton police officers who returned fire in the melee were uninjured. The lone suspect to survive the final shootout, 19-year-old Jaime Ramos, was not wounded in the firefight.
Jones said it was unclear who shot Singh or when.
Ramos was taken into custody and is due in court Monday to face a host of charges, including murder, kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder.