The night before Seth Raines was shot to death by Los Angeles police in Studio City, a chaplain in a skid row homeless shelter pleaded with him not to leave.
The 44-year-old Raines had made huge strides since arriving at the Union Rescue Mission, where he had recently completed an intensive, year-long recovery program, said the shelter’s chief executive, the Rev. Andrew Bales.
The program included one-on-one time with a counselor, regular workouts in the gym, visits to the learning center and spiritual guidance.
Just recently, Raines and others in recovery had a cap-and-gown ceremony with friends and family looking on.
Raines was beaming that day, Bales said.
“I was with him a few weeks ago as he graduated. Shook his hand and took his picture with him. It’s been on my mind since Friday,” Bales said mournfully. “I just see his shining, cheerful face and blue eyes.”
Friday was the day Raines died.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Wednesday that investigators believe the shooting was a “suicide by cop” scenario, based on the man’s actions and on interviews with his family.
Witnesses said Raines fired shots into the air and toward the ground about 3:20 p.m. near Vantage Avenue on Ventura Boulevard. Soon after, police responded to the scene.
Terrified witnesses sought cover and hid behind police cars as officers inched closer to the man.
But witnesses said Raines appeared to be calm as he sat on a brick ledge outside a bank.
“He looked like he was just waiting for the cops,” witness Paul Gilmartin said after the shooting.
Beck said Raines, identified later by the county coroner, had what police thought was an explosive device: natural gas cylinders with wiring connecting them to a cellphone. The device wasn’t explosive, Beck said, but was so convincing that the LAPD deployed a bomb robot to detonate it and another object found near the man’s body.
Beck said the officers shot Raines after he refused to drop his pistol and instead pointed it at the officers. That pistol was recovered at the scene.
“Of course, we still have much investigation to do and the final conclusions have not been reached, but the only conclusion we’ve come to at this time is that this was a suicide by cop,” Beck said. “All those things are very consistent with somebody that wanted to take their own life.”
The chief said the shooting was a “very difficult incident for everybody.”
“We not only had to shut down a very active boulevard, but we also had to take a human life,” he said. “And that is, of course, something that we take very seriously.”
Raines didn’t give any indication of where he was going or why he was leaving when he packed up and left the skid row mission the night before he died, Bales said.
Mission residents and staff didn’t hear about what happened to Raines until one of his cousins sent Bales an email this week, thanking him and the shelter for all they had done for Raines.
“He let us know how [Raines] felt comfortable here. He loved this place,” Bales said.
A Facebook page that appears to have belonged to Raines shows him holding up an image of a skull days before he died, along with a picture of flames spelling out “RIP.”
“There’s no real way to figure out what’s going through someone’s mind when they take this kind of drastic action,” Bales said.
The LAPD said it would not release the names of the officers involved until after the so-called 72-hour briefing, where Beck and command staff will be told about the initial investigation. The officers involved were assigned to the LAPD’s Van Nuys Division, a department spokesman said.
The shooting marked the 23rd time this year that LAPD officers have shot someone. Twelve of those people died.
The shooting will also be reviewed by the district attorney’s office, the Police Commission and its independent inspector general.
Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.