Herman and Judy Cook met in classic Texas fashion more than 20 years ago: He was turning her around at an Amarillo square dance. But the way Herman Cook, a Brink's security guard, died Wednesday was brutally urban: cut down without warning by a swarm of high-powered bullets.
"They don't even hold up a gun and say, 'Give me the money,' " Judy Cook said Thursday. "They just kill you today. You need a fighting chance--or half a fighting chance."
Herman Cook, 51, was ambushed at a Bank of America branch in Winnetka on Wednesday when two robbers using semiautomatic rifles fired 20 to 30 bullets at him and his 53-year-old partner, police said.
The bullets penetrated not just the glass but the armored siding of the Brink's truck, a level of destructiveness that one investigator said he had never seen before.
The attackers, who fired from behind a four-foot wall, shot Cook as he walked from the bank to the parked truck. One robber ran to the truck and shot at Cook's partner, who was hit but managed to return fire, police said.
The robbers, one wearing a dark jacket with "Security" written across the back, fled with an unknown amount of money in a dark blue or black Chevrolet Cavalier.
Cook died three hours later at Northridge Medical Center. Cook's partner, whose name is being withheld, was reported in fair condition Thursday at Holy Cross Medical Center.
The robbers were still at large Thursday. Police described one as a Latino, 30 to 35 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing 160 to 170 pounds. The other wore a ski mask, and was described as a 6-foot-tall man.
Los Angeles Police Detective Tom Wich said he was not sure if Cook or his partner were wearing bulletproof vests. "It probably wouldn't have mattered," Wich said.
Wich, one of the investigators at the scene, said that he could not immediately identify the ammunition used but that it was more powerful than he had ever seen used in a robbery. Brink's officials said they could not discuss what type of bullets their cars were designed to repel.
"We're surprised it went through," Wich said.
Brink's employees were surprised as well.
"We're not even safe in the trucks anymore," said Kenny Delgado, 30, of Monrovia, a Brink's guard. "Everybody's nervous," he said as he left the Brink's facility in North Hollywood.
Herman Cook chose the high-risk occupation five years ago when he lost his aerospace job. A thin man with graying hair and a bare hint of a smile, he had an even disposition and a subtle, dry sense of humor, according to family and friends.
He hunted, fished and voraciously read Western novels, said Fred Greear, a 26-year friend and vice president of Flex-Link Products, a San Fernando aerospace company Cook helped launch in 1984.
"He got along with everybody here," Greear said. "I don't know anybody who didn't like him."
But what Cook cared about most was his wife and two children--Tracie, 19, who was on her way home from Eugene, Ore., Thursday, and Brian, 18, who will graduate soon from Monroe High School in North Hills.
"His family was his life," said Judy Cook, who works in the student loan office at UCLA. When he was laid off, Cook got a job at Brink's and found himself enjoying the work, she said.
But the Cooks knew about the dangers of a holdup.
"We discussed the possibility," Judy Cook said, "but you never think it's going to happen to you."
Frank Garcia, assistant branch manager of the Brink's facility in North Hollywood, said Cook and his partner had worked together for about two years.
"They were a very good team," Garcia said. "They were good for each other. It's rare when you have two people who can come together as a team like that."