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LAPD searches for surveillance video and witnesses to deadly Trader Joe's shootout

Gene Atkins, a 28-year-old Los Angeles man, has been identified as the suspect in a wild car chase and gun battle that left one woman dead and sparked panic inside a Trader Joe’s store in Silver Lake.

The Trader Joe’s market that was the scene of a deadly shootout and hostage crisis in Silver Lake over the weekend will remain closed until further notice, company officials said.

The store was the final scene in a violent rampage allegedly perpetrated by 28-year-old Gene Atkins, who police said shot his grandmother in the South L.A. home they shared, kidnapped his girlfriend and led officers on a wild chase from Hollywood to the Trader Joe’s market in the span of a few hours Saturday afternoon.

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When it was all over, Atkins was in custody and one store employee was dead — killed by gunfire from an unknown shooter. Now police are working to determine if the employee, identified by family members as Melyda Corado, was fatally wounded by the suspect or the Los Angeles Police Department.

Trader Joe’s released a statement regarding the shooting Sunday:

“To Our Valued Customers,

Yesterday marks the saddest day in Trader Joe’s history as we mourn the loss of one of our own. Our thoughts are with her family, and our Crew Members and customers who experienced this terrifying and unimaginable ordeal.

Our Silverlake store will remain closed until further notice to give our Crew Members time to process yesterday’s events. We will continue to do whatever we can to support them.

Thank you for your understanding and outpouring of support.”

Police continue to investigate the incident. Detectives will be canvassing the area for security camera videos and additional witnesses to help piece together the incident, said LAPD spokesman Chris Ramirez.

The suspect’s cousin, Charlene Egland, said Atkins lived with his grandmother, whom she identified as Mary Madison.

“He’s not a killer,” Egland said Monday. “He had a lot of stuff on his mind.”

The 63-year-old said she visited Madison — her aunt — in the hospital the day before. She was out of surgery and recovering in ICU, she said.

As relatives flowed in and out of the room, Madison tried to speak, but had a tube in her throat, making her words incomprehensible. The family prayed for her recovery, Egland said.

Doctors told Egland that Madison was shot three times — in the chest and leg — not the seven that has been widely reported, and that Madison would have to have an additional operation on her hip.

On the day of the shooting, Cyrani Ackerman was inside Trader Joe’s with her daughter Morgan when they heard gunshots in the parking lot.

"We heard the screech of tires and the crash. We started scrambling before we even heard shots," Ackerman said.

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They were just about to check out when bullets began to fly. Terrified staff and customers scrambled to the back of the store where they hid in bathrooms, upstairs and behind shipments of food.

"Seven of us were hiding in the back behind the bread," Ackerman said. "There was a lot of shots fired."

About 30 minutes after the gunfire began, Los Angeles police began to stealthily rescue dozens of those hiding while the gunman remained at the front of the store.

Ackerman, a creative director for a design studio, said the gunman forced an employee "to find everyone in the store and bring them up so he could see us."

"The entire store was empty — except us behind the bread and the few people that were with him," she said. "Two women were laying on the floor near him when we approached and we couldn't tell if they were hurt, but then it became clear they were just trying to hide and stay out of the way."

Tension peaked when the gunman noticed police had surrounded the building, Ackerman said.

"That was the worst when he saw the snipers outside and told the police to move them," she recalled. "That's when he threatened to kill us and at this point, we were 5 to 10 [feet] in front of him."

She said the hostages couldn't really communicate with one another and "just held to whoever we could reach."

Ackerman said that throughout the ordeal, "I tried to keep eye contact with him when I could. And I thanked him whenever he released someone."

She said all she could think about was saving her daughter. As soon as the gunman was able to talk to his grandmother, he began letting people go, Ackerman said.

He asked Ackerman if the college-age woman with her was her daughter and Ackerman said yes, so he let the woman go, she said.

"I was holding to another young woman too … he asked if she was also my daughter and I said ‘yes’ and he let her go too," she said.

The gunman ultimately surrendered after police said they would not shoot him if he surrendered, Ackerman said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, friends remembered Corado, who was the store manager, as a cheerful presence in the neighborhood.

Corado shared a two-bedroom apartment with a couple who neighbors said were among her closest friends, according to Zaher Cassim, the building’s manager. She recently transferred to the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s from a different store branch.

“I’m sad to say she didn’t make it. My baby sister. My world. I appreciate the retweets and the love,” Albert Corado tweeted Saturday. “Please respect my family’s privacy as we are still coming to terms with this.”

Atkins is being held in lieu of $2-million bail on suspicion of murder, according to police.

Egland said Atkins had been involved in a feud with his grandmother over his girlfriend’s presence at the home they shared on East 32nd Street in South L.A. Egland said Atkins was raised by his grandmother, who repeatedly cared for him despite prior run-ins with police and sometimes violent arguments that would erupt between the two.

“Whenever he got into something, she’d go to his rescue; that’s why I can’t even believe what he did to her,” Egland said.

No court date had been set for Atkins by Monday morning, jail records showed.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

12:15 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Charlene Egland, the suspect’s cousin.

This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.

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