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Standoff in Chatsworth ends with arrest of armed man aboard Amtrak train

Andrew Mitrak had been in San Luis Obispo on business Friday and was taking an Amtrak train to South Orange County to surprise his mother for her 60th birthday.

Family dinner would start at 8:30 p.m., and he planned to be there.

But about two hours earlier, his train stopped in Chatsworth. As Mitrak worked — his laptop out on the tray table, his headphones playing NPR’s “All Songs Considered” — he noted from his seat in the back of the train that many people appeared to be getting off.

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He assumed Chatsworth was simply “a popular stop” until he heard the voice of a sheriff’s deputy come over the intercom.

“Come out slowly with your hands up,” the deputy said. “Evacuate the vehicle.”

“Then I heard another passenger say: ‘There’s a lunatic with a gun,’” Mitrak recalled. “I heard ‘guy with a gun’ and got the hell off.”

Thus began a nearly eight-hour standoff that ended early Saturday when sheriff’s deputies deployed tear gas and the suspect surrendered.

Sgt. Ayra Sierra of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said officials deployed tear gas shortly before 2 a.m.

The suspect, identified as Darius Palmer, 46, of Oxnard, was booked by the Amtrak Police Department and charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with making terroristic threats and felony possession of a firearm, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said.

The standoff began about 6:30 p.m. Friday after a passenger aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner reported seeing a man with a handgun. Los Angeles Police Department officers, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies and Amtrak police officers surrounded the train, and the tracks were shut down in both directions.

Roughly 200 passengers had been on Train No. 790, which originated in San Luis Obispo and was headed for San Diego.

For the first 30 seconds or so after the evacuation order, Mitrak, a digital marketing manager from Seattle, was scared. “You hear stories about these kinds of things going really badly,” he said.

But soon thereafter, he found himself off the platform and in the station’s parking lot with the rest of the passengers, regretting the fact that he had not grabbed his laptop, briefcase or backpack. Some elderly passengers worried about medication they said they had left on board.

A few people lingered on the train for at least 10 more minutes, Mitrak said. Meanwhile, a dozen police cruisers parked in a line at the station; sheriff’s deputies had their guns drawn toward a train car that was three cars in front of the one Mitrak had been in.

Police moved passengers farther and farther away, eventually onto the sidewalk opposite the train station, Mitrak said.

Mitrak said he talked to a passenger who said he had been sitting in front of Palmer. Mitrak said the passenger told him that Palmer “was speaking loudly” and “sounded like he was on drugs.” At one point, the passenger told Mitrak, he had turned around, thinking Palmer was talking to someone. But in fact had been talking to himself.

Palmer had moved to a car farther back in the train about 20 minutes before it was evacuated, the passenger told Mitrak, acting “strangely” but not threatening anyone.

Around 9:30 p.m., passengers got word that an Amtrak bus would be taking them to L.A.’s Union Station, Mitrak said. His brother-in-law drove him from there to Orange County.

Mitrak arrived at his sister’s house after midnight and passed out on the couch. Neither of the siblings had told their mother about the surprise.

So when he showed up at his mother’s San Clemente apartment Saturday morning, Mitrak said he “had a great story for her.”

matt.stevens@latimes.com

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByMattStevens, @frankshyong

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UPDATES:

2:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with passenger comments.

1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from a train passenger.

11 a.m.: This article has been updated with details about the charges faced by the gunman and train cancellations.

6:20 a.m.: This article has been updated with the gunman’s name.

2:55 a.m. Sept. 17: This article has been updated with the gunman’s arrest.

This article was first published at 10 p.m. Sept. 16.


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