Nine undocumented Chinese immigrants being held for ransom in Monterey Park wrested a gun from their captors early Tuesday and shot one to death before fleeing, authorities said.
The immigrants--some of whom had been in captivity for three months--scattered after the confrontation at the three-bedroom bungalow, said Fidel Gonzales, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
However, six were found hours later trying to hide in a garage down the street and were being questioned by homicide detectives seeking to piece together their story and locate the gunman, who remains at large.
Gonzales said the nine men, ages 21 to 45, had come from the mainland provinces of Fujian and Shantong on the promise of work in the United States. Initially, he said, their captors had promised to bring them to Los Angeles for $15,000 apiece, with $3,000 paid in advance.
When they arrived, however, the smugglers raised the price to $35,000 a head, Gonzales said, and telephoned the men’s families in China with a threat to hold them hostage until the money arrived. Handcuffed to each other and freed only intermittently and one at a time, the men were confined to the tidy, white rental house in the 500 block of Casuda Canyon Road, Gonzales said.
Most had been there about three weeks, he said, but a few, including the gunman, had been there for several months. The landlords--a Taiwanese couple who relied on a property management agency to handle the rental house--could not be reached for comment.
However, their granddaughter, 22-year-old May Chang of South Pasadena, expressed shock at the shootings, saying it had been months since anyone in her family had spoken directly to the two Chinese men who rented the house.
“Oh, my God,” said Chang, who had not heard of the shootings until a reporter told her about the incident. “We had no idea about this.
Gonzales said the shootings occurred about 2:15 a.m. in one of the bedrooms. One of the hostages, he said, got into a fight with his captor, managed to grab his gun and then shot the smuggler once in the head.
“When he heard the commotion, the second [smuggler] went to the bedroom and the hostage took a shot at him, too,” Gonzales said. The second smuggler was hit in the upper torso, and the captives made their escape, Gonzales said.
Six fled in a pack and dashed around the neighborhood before ending up on the doorstep of a house near the corner of Casuda Canyon and West Verde Vista Drive.
Glenn Dott said he was in his open garage when the frightened men rushed in and surrounded him, shouting in Chinese and trying vainly to push their way into his house.
Dott said that at first he believed he was the victim of a takeover robbery, but he quickly realized that the men were frightened rather than dangerous. As he resisted, he said, “they started to act very subservient,” and began to mime their urgency.
“One or two of them got on their knees in a praying position, and one man made a pistol with his fingers and put it to his head,” he said.
When he asked them to raise their shirts to show that they were unarmed, they readily complied. Nonetheless, he said, he still refused to let them into his house and told his wife to call the authorities.
The arrival of the police did not end the miscommunication, Dott said. Moments after his wife had ended her conversation with the 911 operator, a squad car pulled up and an officer ordered Dott to come out of the garage with his hands behind his head.
As Dott strode from his garage in disbelief, he said, it dawned on him that police believed he was the criminal: Standing warily in the street, an officer trained his gun on Dott “until I explained that I had six Chinese nationals in my garage,” the homeowner said.
Authorities later explained that, while the immigrants had searched for sanctuary, the wounded smuggler also had called 911.
“The Monterey Park police went down there, and put two and two together,” Gonzales said.
The smuggler, a young Asian man who told authorities he spoke only Chinese, was taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was listed in stable condition. Neither his name nor the name of the the man who was killed were released by authorities.
The six immigrants in Dott’s garage were taken to the Monterey Park police station, where they were questioned by bilingual officers and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, authorities said.
Two other hostages remain at large Tuesday, as did the suspected gunman, Gonzales said.