Daniel Yealu was upbeat when he talked to his father last year. He told him that he was making good money as a security guard, had applied to get into the Burbank police academy and hoped to soon buy a condominium.
But on Monday night, the 29-year-old allegedly walked into a Los Angeles Police Department station, approached the front desk and opened fire at two officers. One was wounded before the pair returned fire, critically wounding the suspect.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Yealu used a Glock pistol and was carrying extra magazines. A “heavily modified” AK-47 was found in his car parked outside the Wilshire Division station, police said, and more high-powered weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were later found at Yealu’s home.
“By the grace of God, the suspect did not come in with the assault weapons that he has had access to,” Beck said.
Investigators are still trying to determine what prompted the attack, saying only that Yealu told the officers he had a complaint before he began shooting.
LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said Yealu had applied to become an LAPD officer but was rejected. The city personnel department said he sought the job in 2009 and had passed a written test.
Officials believe the violence Monday night could have been a lot worse had the gunman not been subdued quickly — about 20 people were attending a community meeting just feet from where the shots were fired.
“The belief was he was going to go a lot further than just the two people at the front desk,” Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said.
Authorities were also trying to determine how he obtained what Beck described as an “armament” of weapons: a 9-millimeter handgun, a semi-automatic Sig Sauer handgun, an AR-15-style assault rifle, a 1960s SKS model assault rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun.
State records showed Yealu obtained a license to work as a security guard in 2005, and got a firearm permit in 2007. But both expired Dec. 31, 2013, after he failed to pay necessary fees, a Department of Consumer affairs spokeswoman said.
Yealu, who remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday, was booked in absentia on suspicion of attempted murder, LAPD officials said. Online jail records show his bail was set at $2 million.
Yealu’s father said in an interview that he learned of his son’s alleged acts when detectives showed up at his door Tuesday morning. He said that although he didn’t talk to his son often — the pair last spoke by phone in October — he noticed no warning signs.
Danny Yealu, 58, said that as a teenager, his son got involved in gangs, and was one time picked up by police in Inglewood. But he said his son told him he had turned his life around, that he was “doing really well.”
Yealu said his son also told him last year that he was undergoing the background checks required by Burbank police. Burbank police officials said they had no record that he had applied to any position within the city or its community police academy.
Residents of the Motor Avenue apartment complex where Daniel Yealu lived said he mostly kept to himself. Some said he wasn’t friendly to them — that he looked away when walking by, and never said hello.
The shooting shattered what was a normal Monday night at the Venice Boulevard station, where the Olympic Park Neighborhood Council had gathered in the community room for its monthly meeting. Pamela Whittenbury, the group’s 71-year-old treasurer, said she had stepped out of the room for a few minutes, talking to an officer at the front desk as she grabbed a soda.
Whittenbury went back inside, worried her pizza was getting cold. Just a few minutes later, she heard the gunshots.
“If I would have stayed out there, I would have gotten shot,” she said. “That pizza saved my life.”
The group dove under tables, staying as quiet as they could. Daphne Brogdon counted about 10 gunshots as she hid beneath a lectern with another council member.
“We were just holding hands, looking at each other, saying ‘Oh, my god. Oh, my god,’” Brogdon said.
Brogdon said she was reluctant to look up when she heard people entering the room but saw that it was police officers checking on them. She was terrified it was the shooter.
When she did look up, she said, she saw a bullet hole.
Beck praised his officers for their actions, saying they showed “extreme courage under fire.”
“That’s a trite phrase that’s overused,” the chief said. “But in this case, it is extremely accurate.”
The injured officer, described only as a seven-year veteran, was expected to recover, police said.
Though initial reports indicated the injured officer was wearing a ballistic vest when he was hit, officials said Tuesday that he was not. Beck said a mushroomed bullet led police to believe a vest had stopped one of the rounds.
Instead, the chief said, the bullet hit a backup pistol in the officer’s left pocket. Though the officer was also struck twice in the shoulder and once in the side, Beck said the round buried in the gun could have struck a major artery in his thigh.
It was “truly a miracle,” Beck said. “Having that backup gun saved his life.”
Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts, Joel Rubin, Ruben Vives and Samantha Schaefer contributed to this report.