Survivor has ties to the area

GLENDALE — The Thursday shooting of decorated Los Angeles SWAT team officer James Veenstra, a Crescenta Valley High School graduate who has worked with the Glendale Police Department, sparked concern among city and law enforcement officials.

Veenstra, 51, was wounded Thursday after the Los Angeles Police Department responded to a call from a gunman who claimed to have shot three of his relatives at a home in Winnetka, Los Angeles Police Officer Jason Lee said.

A SWAT team rushed into the man’s home in an attempt to save the hostages inside. LAPD Officer Randal Simmons was fatally shot, and Veenstra was shot in the jaw, Lee said.

The incident ended eight hours later, when the shooter emerged from his home with a shotgun and handgun and was fatally shot by a police sniper, Lee said.

Four others, the gunman, his brothers and their father, were all killed in the incident.

Veenstra is undergoing multiple surgeries at Northridge Hospital Medical Center and is expected to survive, LAPD officials said.

Veenstra and other Los Angeles SWAT officers have provided basic training to the Glendale Police Department since Glendale started its own program in 1998, Glendale Police Capt. Lief Nicolaisen said.

“Throughout the years Jim has served as a mentor,” Nicolaisen said.

Veenstra was also on the front lines in May 1997, when Glendale police investigator Charles Lazzaretto was fatally shot in a warehouse search for an attempted murder suspect.

“When Chuck Lazzaretto was killed, Jim was on the team of officers that attempted to rescue him from the warehouse,” Nicolaisen said. “His job was to provide suppressive cover fire while other officers tried to remove him. All of us are waiting with such hope that Chuck would be able to be removed or resuscitated . . . But we appreciated the involvement of Jim and other SWAT members who placed themselves in great peril.”

The LAPD awarded Veenstra a Medal of Valor for his actions in that incident, saying that his “courage, discipline and presence of mind embody the finest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

Glendale Police officers had their fingers crossed when they heard that officers were hit in Thursday’s standoff and were relieved to hear that Veenstra made it out alive, Nicolaisen said.

“He’s a SWAT cop’s SWAT cop,” he said.

“And a great guy.”

Veenstra and his siblings attended Glendale schools and were active in sports activities, said Councilman John Drayman, who grew up in the same neighborhood as the Veenstra family in La Crescenta.

“They are just a great, great family — terrific people,” he said.


 CHRIS WIEBE covers public safety and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at chris.wiebe@ latimes.com.

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