Herman and Judy Cook met in classic Texas fashion over 20 years ago, he turning her around at an Amarillo square dance. But the way Herman, a Brink's security guard, died Wednesday was brutally urban: cut down without warning by a hail of high-powered bullets.
"They don't even hold up a gun and say, 'Give me the money,' " Judy Cook said. "They just kill you today. You need a fighting chance--or half a fighting chance."
Cook, 51, was a victim of an ambush at a Bank of America branch in Winnetka Wednesday when two robbers using semiautomatic rifles fired 20 to 30 bullets at him and his 53-year-old partner, police said. The robbers fired bullets that penetrated not just the glass but the armor siding of the Brink's truck, a level of destructiveness that one investigator said he had never seen before.
As Cook walked from the bank to the parked Brink's truck he was hit by the attackers, who fired from behind a four-foot-high wall. One robber ran to the parked truck and shot at Cook's partner, who was hit but managed to return fire, police said.
The 53-year old driver underwent surgery for wounds to his head, neck and shoulders and was listed in fair condition at Holy Cross Medical Center. Authorities did not release his name.
The robbers, one wearing a dark jacket with "Security" written across the back, fled with an unknown amount of money, slowly driving south on Winnetka Avenue in a dark blue or black Chevrolet Cavalier. Cook died three hours later at Northridge Medical Center.
Los Angeles Police Detective Tom Wich said he was not sure whether Cook or his partner were wearing their bullet-proof vests. "It probably wouldn't have mattered," he said, adding that "20 to 30-plus" bullets were fired at the guards.
Wich, one of the investigators at the scene, said he could not immediately identify the ammunition used, but said it was more powerful than he has ever seen in a robbery. One police official described the bullets as military-style, full metal-jacketed rifle bullets.
An FBI spokeswoman said the style of the robbery was not familiar. Wich called the crime "a well-planned caper."
"There's been other Brink's robberies, but nothing like this," he said.
The robbers were still at large Thursday. Police described one as a 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11 Latino, 30 to 35 years old, 160 to 170 pounds. The other wore a ski mask and was described only as male and six feet tall.
Wich said detectives have met with the FBI and are "looking into everything. The word's out on the street. Hopefully, we'll get something back."
Brink's officials said they could not discuss precisely what types of bullets their vehicles are designed to repel.
"We're surprised it went through," Wich said.
As were Brink's employees. "We're not even safe in the trucks anymore," said Kenny Delgado, 30, of Monrovia, a Brink's guard.
"Everybody's nervous," Delgado said as he left the Brink's facility in North Hollywood. But he said he wouldn't change his line of work. "It's my job. It's the job I chose."
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 inordinately even keel 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 the vice president of Flex-Link Products Inc., a San Fernando aerospace company Cook helped launch in 1984. With 30 or 40 people under his watch, Cook was laid off five years ago.
"He got along with everybody here. I don't know anybody that didn't like him," Greear said, adding that most of the employees at work Thursday were shocked at the loss. "He's on our wall of pictures over here--all the years."
What Herman Cook cared most about, however, was his wife and two children, Tracie, 19, who was on her way from Eugene, Ore., on 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. "We just draw our strength from each other."
When he was laid off, Cook--with the help of a rave recommendation from his friend Greear--got a job at Brink's and found himself enjoying the constant motion of the work, Judy said.
"He wasn't behind a desk with a supervisor standing over him," she said.
The dangers of transporting money, however, were evident, and the Cooks had occasionally discussed the hazards.
"We discussed the possibility," Judy said, "but you never think it's going to happen to you."
Cook was popular at the Brink's facility in North Hollywood.
"He was one of those guys always with a smile," said Frank Garcia, assistant branch manager of the North Hollywood facility. "Isn't that the way God intends it--the guy who's a joy to be around, who you'll always miss. . . . "
Garcia said Cook and his partner, whose name was not released, had worked together for about two years and got along well. "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."
Garcia said he did not know whether company policy would change in wake of the shooting. "It's just so dangerous out there," he said. "We'll do whatever we can. . . . There'll never be a point where whatever's in that truck will be more valuable than one of my guys' lives."
As he headed to work Thursday, Delgado recalled some advice that Cook, who trained him, gave two years ago, when the younger man had just joined Brink's: "Watch your back. When it happens, it's quick."
Times staff writer Julie Tamaki contributed to this story.