For days, 60 undercover police detectives had been watching more than a dozen residences across Southern California -- locations, informants told them, where Oscar Gabriel Gallegos might be holed up.
They got their break Wednesday afternoon when four undercover officers spotted Gallegos, suspected in the shooting of two Long Beach police officers, walking out of an apartment in Santa Ana.
The detectives followed him to a nearby strip mall before moving in for a closer look to confirm his identity, said Long Beach Police Lt. David D. Cannan.
Long Beach detectives called in Santa Ana police SWAT officers.
Within moments, three uniformed officers arrived in an unmarked car.
As they approached Gallegos, he allegedly opened fire -- beginning a wild gun battle in which more than 40 shots were exchanged in under a minute, police said.
At least five bullets entered a crowded laundry. Another pierced the passenger door of the police car. Another smashed through the back window of a passing car, frightening the driver.
The operators of a taqueria, a bakery, a water store and other shops cowered with customers in back corners and under tables. Angelica Carrillo, who runs Stacy’s Fashion clothing store, said she didn’t emerge from her hiding place for more than 20 minutes after the shooting stopped.
“I can’t tell you how terrified I was,” Carrillo said. “First came the shots. Then so many people running in front and in back of the store. The helicopters were overhead.”
Santa Ana Police Sgt. Lorenzo Carrillo said officers had no other choice but to attempt to arrest Gallegos in the crowded shopping center. “If you don’t take him when you have him, you may never again have the opportunity,” he said.
Gallegos, who was shot multiple times, was pronounced dead at the scene, and police later recovered a .40-caliber Glock pistol and two loaded ammunition clips.
Authorities called it a violent end to a five-day dragnet.
According to police, the Long Beach officers, Abe Yap, 35, and Roy Wade Jr., 39, stopped Gallegos, who was driving a white Nissan Pathfinder, about 1:20 p.m. Friday at the intersection of 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard.
Two law enforcement sources involved in the investigation said that a short time before, an off-duty, undercover Long Beach police investigator saw a man acting strangely at an area gun store and called police with a description of the man and the white sport utility vehicle he was driving.
Yap and Wade spotted the Pathfinder that matched the investigator’s description and moments later saw the driver run a red light, the sources said.
After he was stopped, Gallegos stepped out of the sport utility vehicle and without provocation, according to police, began shooting at the officers, who were unable to return fire.
As the wounded officers were rushed in patrol cars to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, police swarmed the downtown area.
Within minutes, police said officers crossed paths with Gallegos at Broadway and Long Beach Boulevard, about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the shooting.
Officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect before Gallegos fled.
Investigators found the abandoned SUV about 5 p.m. at an underground parking garage in the 200 block of Elm Avenue.
It was then that police said they linked the car to Gallegos.
Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts said Friday that Gallegos had an extensive criminal record, including charges on weapons, drug sales and possession, as well as assault.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said authorities were concerned that Gallegos, a Mexican national who had been deported from the United States three times, might flee the country.
Long Beach police, meanwhile, had begun dispatching their undercover detectives, 60 in all, to locations that Gallegos was known to frequent in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.
Officers concentrated their efforts on Long Beach and Santa Ana. But despite days of round-the-clock stakeouts, Gallegos didn’t turn up.
“We did not stop, we did not slow down,” Batts said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a break came outside an apartment in Santa Ana.
“We weren’t sure if it was him,” Cannan, of the Long Beach Police Department, said. “We followed the car to the strip mall, where our officers got in for a closer look to identify him.”
Authorities said another man dropped Gallegos off in front of a taqueria, then went to park the car.
Gallegos’ companion was detained and cooperated with authorities, Carrillo said. Investigators determined that he was not involved in any criminal activities, he added.
At the downtown Long Beach apartment house where Gallegos once lived, one tenant expressed shock Thursday over the incident.
“I still can’t believe it,” said the tenant, who asked not to be identified. “He was a nice guy, he was really pleasant.”
Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.