Emergency responders across Southern California were mourning the loss of one of their own Monday, after a gunman killed a Long Beach firefighter who was investigating a fire alarm at a high-rise senior living facility.
Fire Capt. Dave Rosa, 45, was fatally shot while investigating reports of an explosion and the smell of gasoline inside the Covenant Manor senior care facility about 4 a.m., Long Beach Fire Chief Mike DuRee said.
Thomas Kim, a 77-year-old resident of the building, was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson, police Chief Robert Luna said. He is being held on $2-million bail.
Authorities found a revolver at the scene, along with two suspicious devices that the Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad rendered safe. Investigators are working to determine a motive.
Rosa and another firefighter, Ernesto Torres, 35, were struck by gunfire inside the 11-story building as they helped to trace what had triggered the building’s sprinkler system and forced residents to shelter in place, said Jake Heflin, a spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department. A third person, an elderly man who lives in the building, was also shot and is in stable but critical condition, Luna said.
Rosa and Torres were shot near the unit where the blast occurred, officials said. Both were taken to St. Mary Medical Center. Torres, a 12-year veteran of the agency, was treated and released.
“This is a tough day,” DuRee said, his voice choking and his eyes welling with tears.
Rosa, a 17-year veteran of the department, is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 25 and 16, the fire chief said. As news of his death spread, neighboring agencies offered their support.
“Captain Rosa was a hero doing what all first responders are called to do — help those in need during their time of need,” tweeted Michel Moore, the Los Angeles mayor’s choice to be the next Los Angeles police chief.
“We grieve with our partners in Long Beach and offer our steadfast support during this difficult time,” tweeted Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.
Authorities in Orange County also grieved.
Hours after the shooting, police had blocked off streets near the facility with caution tape and squad cars. Curious residents who walked by asked each other if they knew what happened. About a block from the crime scene, officials wearing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives jackets were huddled in a discussion.
Covenant Manor hosts 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments for low-income people who are 62 or older or disabled adults older than 18, said James Park, a spokesman for HumanGood, the nonprofit senior living provider network that runs the facility.
Park said the property is one of 63 affordable-housing communities that HumanGood runs across the country.
When asked if the firefighters were ambushed by the shooter, Luna replied: “That is definitely on the table.
“We’re going to be looking at that. That’s the environment we work at today, as law enforcement and firefighters,” Luna said. “You go to these scenes and you never know what’s on the other side of those doors. And these brave firefighters went through those doors, and unfortunately, they were met with gunfire.”
One witness told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that the gunman was in the stairwell that residents were trying to take to evacuate the building.
Residents will be allowed back in the building once it’s deemed safe, police said. Several windows were blown out.
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad unit was dispatched to the scene at East 4th Street and Atlantic Avenue to investigate two devices in the area that were deemed suspicious, Luna said.
Ginger Colbrun, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman, said agents are now on the scene to assist with the investigation.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Long Beach’s former police chief, said: “It is a tragic loss. Long Beach is the biggest small town in America. Everyone knows everyone and this loss is being felt hard across the city."
About 80 seniors were evacuated from the facility and taken to Silverado Park, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said.
At 10:30 a.m., some elderly people sat on couches at the church, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.
Church volunteer Ruben Lindley, 81, helped distribute food and water and said folks were in dire need of a place to rest.
“I knew right away that they needed my help, so I came,” Lindely said. “One person was really upset that he had to leave his home.”
Lindley helped escort the senior citizens to buses to the park, where nurses were awaiting to help take care of them.
Natalia Hambartsumova, 85, has been living at the facility since 2013. She said that around 3:45 a.m., an emergency alert system woke her up. When she got to the second floor, she said, she saw firefighters and asked them what was going on. “They told me everything will be all right,” she said.
Rob Langworthy, co-pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, said he was grateful to help. He arrived at the church around 7:30 a.m, and said residents urgently needed restrooms and rest.
“Many people have been up since 3:45 a.m.,” Langworthy said. He added that his church had extra wheelchairs and walkers for people who didn’t have time to grab theirs from their apartment. “We’re glad we could do what we did.”
About 1 p.m. Monday, a procession led Rosa’s body to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Overpasses on the 710 Freeway were adorned with American flags flying at half-staff, witnesses reported.