SWAT team veteran Randal Simmons, left, was killed this morning during a shootout with a suspect in the Valley community of Winnetka. He is the first member of the Special Weapons and Tactics team to die in action since the unit's inception in 1971. He is described as a 51-year-old father of two.
Officer James Veenstra, also 51, was wounded in the same operation and has undergone surgery at Northridge Medical Center. "The surgery was successful," said Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell. The surgeon said later that damage to Veenstra's jaw is substantial and that reconstructive surgery will be needed. Both officers had been with SWAT for more than 20 years. Veenstra is married to LAPD captain Michelle Veenstra.
In total five people have died, including the gunman. The house where the incident occurred caught fire, but the blaze has been put out. "It was a tragedy what happened out there, but it could have been much worse," McDonnell said just now at news conference on the scene.
According to accounts, the gunman barricaded himself in a house on Welby Way after calling 911 last night about 9 pm to say he had killed three relatives. Shortly after midnight he fired at officers who entered the home, hitting Simmons and Veenstra. The wounded officers were extracted and taken to the hospital, while one of the other gunman's other victims also was removed but died at the scene. Attempts to contact the gunman and negotiate were fruitless, so tear gas was used sometime after 5 am. After a woman ran from the home, the LAPD began dismantling the structure to look for the suspect. He exchanged more gunfire with police, and after the explosion of a flash-bang grenade and a further encounter of some kind, he was pronounced dead at the scene. McDonnell was not clear at the 8:20 am news conference how the gunman died.
"It's a sad day in the City of Los Angeles to have lost an officer," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at the scene. Chief William Bratton was in Vancouver at a conference of police chiefs but boarded a flight for Los Angeles this morning. He is scheduled to attend a noon news conference at the hospital.
"The members of the Los Angeles Police Department are deeply saddened this morning having lost a member of their family. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of these two brave officers," LAPD spokesman Lieutenant Ruben De La Torre posted on the department news blog.
Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League: "Officer Randal Simmons was a good friend, loyal partner and an exemplary officer. He was proud to be a member of LAPD SWAT, despite the risks that came with that assignment, and today that bravery cost him his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family members, who lost a good man. Our thoughts and prayers are also with Officer James Veenstra who is recovering from surgery, and his family, including his wife, Captain Michelle Veenstra."
The last LAPD officer killed in the line of duty was Landon Dorris, who was struck by a car on Riverside Drive during a routine traffic investigation on Oct. 22, 2006.
Updated repeatedly with new information