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‘It’s devastating that I’ll never see her again’: Silver Lake grapples with deadly Trader Joe’s shooting

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Gene Atkins, a 28-year-old Los Angeles man, has been identified as the suspect in a wild car chase and gun battle that left one woman dead and sparked panic inside a Trader Joe’s store in Silver Lake.  

Tatiana Velasquez wept Monday as she bent down beside a makeshift memorial outside Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake and scrawled a message to her manager at the store where she’s worked for a year.

“Our angel Mely,” she wrote on the concrete in blue chalk. “#017 crew will never forget you.”

Velasquez was among dozens of people who visited the grocery store — known internally as No. 17 — to pay tribute to Melyda Corado, 27, who was killed Saturday afternoon in a shootout between a gunman and Los Angeles police.

Mourners left bouquets of flowers and candles. Co-workers, customers and strangers wrote messages on colorful sticky-notes and posters made of paper Trader Joe’s shopping bags.

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“She was always in a good mood, always smiling. It’s devastating that I’ll never see her again,” said Velasquez, 18, lamenting that Corado will never get to be a mother, something she’d talked about often. “She was someone everyone knew. She was always ready to greet customers.”

Jorge Magallon, a 62-year-old Silver Lake resident who has been a regular customer for a decade, said Corado was a hard worker. “She was always this way and that, asking: ‘What do you need? Do you need anything?’ ” he said.

The deadly confrontation stunned the tight-knit neighborhood, where residents routinely alert neighbors of goings-on using the social media app Nextdoor and sometimes walk their dogs while wearing pajamas. Company officials said the store will remain closed until further notice.

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“This is a place so many people go to on a daily basis,” said Jennifer Rovero, a photographer who was in the store’s parking lot when the rampage unfolded. “This has been devastating, but today when I drove by and saw the outpouring of flowers and notes, it made me proud to be a part of our little neighborhood. We’ll get through this.”

Authorities are working to determine whether the gunfire that killed Corado came from the suspect, Gene Atkins, or police. Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Alan Hamilton, who oversees the department’s Force Investigation Division, which examines officer shootings, said the complexity of the investigation means that a preliminary presentation to the police chief may be delayed to next week.

Through tears, Velasquez on Monday recalled the harrowing moments that followed the shooting. She had been restocking the salad section when she heard tires screech and a loud crash. Then gunfire.

She ran to the store’s backroom to warn her co-workers — and to hide. Velasquez pulled out her phone and typed out a text to her mom, thinking it could be her last: “There is a shooting at Trader Joe’s. I love you always and forever. Tell everyone.”

It was a message that, after graduating from high school recently, she never thought she’d have to send.

“I couldn’t help to think there’s all these kids in the U.S. who are doing the same thing, sending these last word texts while they’re in a classroom,” she said, through tears. “I thought I’m safe, I don’t have to deal with school shootings. Now there’s a shooting at my workplace. It’s a grocery store. People shouldn’t be afraid to buy groceries.”

The store was the final scene in a violent rampage that began when Atkins, 28, allegedly shot his grandmother in the South L.A. home they shared, kidnapped his girlfriend and led officers on a wild chase from Hollywood to the Trader Joe’s market in the span of a few hours. Atkins was arrested on suspicion of murder after the gun battle and is being held on $2-million bail.

That afternoon, Sandra Stratton heard there was an active shooter across the street from her home. Without thinking, she got in her car and fled.

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That instant flight reaction was something she learned not too long ago after surviving the Las Vegas shooting at a country music concert in October. She visited Trader Joe’s on Monday morning to process the violence — for the second time — and offer support to survivors.

“I felt like I needed to come over here and work out a few things,” she said. “It’s like, is it going to stop?”

Stratton said other survivors of the Las Vegas shooting have become her support network, and she hopes the same thing happens for those who survived Saturday’s shooting at Trader Joe’s.

“People who weren’t there don’t understand,” she said. “They will never understand. They’ll say, ‘It’s OK, get over it.’ You don’t get over it. The way you do daily things change.”

After the Vegas shooting, she said, she started wearing her car keys around her neck, ready to escape quickly if necessary.

For some in the community, the shooting was infuriating — and unbearable.

“I’m leaving L.A. We’ve had it,” Silver Lake resident Patrice Leigh said as she shopped at Gelson’s market nearby. “L.A. is destroyed… There’s no gun control.”

Leigh said she had been shopping at Trader Joe’s just an hour before the shooting. “You think, ‘Oh my God, I could have been there,’ ” she said.

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alejandra.reyesvelarde@latimes.com | Twitter: @r_valejandra

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com | Twitter: @AleneTchek

richard.winton@latimes.com | Twitter: @LAcrimes


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