LOS ANGELES – What began as yet another car chase on Southern California freeways turned into a saga that spanned three counties, with one of five suspects arrested within sight of the Los Angeles police chief at a charity event and another leaving thousands of students and staff stranded for hours into the night as police searched for the suspect on the campus of Cal State Fullerton.
The five were suspected in an armed robbery Wednesday at a pawn shop and jewelry store. Two of the suspects remained at large late Wednesday, with one believed to be hiding on campus. The other three were in custody.
The search at Cal State Fullerton was centered on the southeast edge of campus, said Chris Bugbee, the school's director of public relations. Students were alerted via text message at about 4 p.m. and were told to stay where they were with doors locked. Many remained in classrooms and offices more than seven hours later.
Students stayed connected to family, friends and media outlets via text messages, phone calls and Twitter from classrooms and dorm rooms, some with doors barricaded.
"We've made a makeshift bathroom out of trash cans, and whatever happens here stays here. That's the rule," Robert Pachorek, a student holed up in a classroom in Langsdorf Hall, told KABC-TV in a call from his cellphone.
Police believe at least one suspect fled into Mihaylo Hall at the university's College of Business, where some occupants were evacuated.
"We saw all these cops coming through with — I think they were like AKs or something. They were pretty big guns," student Nate Chu told KABC. "And they eventually told us we had to leave the campus."
SWAT officers were clearing Mihaylo Hall room by room, and the suspect had yet to be found seven hours after the search began.
All students were safe, school officials said.
A slow stream of students began leaving campus late Wednesday, telling several television news stations that police had cleared their buildings and allowed them to leave.
At least one person fired a handgun while attempting to rob the combination pawn shop and jewelry store in Moreno Valley just after 3 p.m., according to Riverside County sheriff's Cpl. Angel Ramos. One person was shot and survived, but police had no further details on his condition late Wednesday.
Five suspects fled the robbery in a gray Lexus and were stopped by police in Fullerton when the sedan rear-ended a vehicle near the school. Two people were detained soon after the crash. The other three ran off.
"They ran right at me, I decided to get out of their way, I did not know if they were armed or not," said student Shaun Kintaudi, who was on his way to take a test. "I decided it was best to run away from them and let the cops do their job."
The suspects were considered armed and dangerous, said Fullerton police spokesman Jeff Stuart.
Two student news anchors stuck in their campus television studio were posting video reports on the school newspaper's website as they got updates via text messages.
They said they had been rehearsing for just such an event.
"About a week ago we were doing live shots, and now we are actually doing live shots with a tragic situation," journalism major Cara Seo said in a video.
All evening classes and activities were canceled Wednesday. The campus is in its final week of classes before final exams.
One of the suspects who fled after the crash near campus carjacked a silver sedan and drove onto westbound state Route 91, speeding erratically through rush hour traffic until exiting onto surface streets nearly 30 miles away in Los Angeles County. The victim of the carjacking wasn't hurt, Stuart said.
The suspect crashed the car, sprinted through a lawn and hopped a fence near a housing project in Watts. He surrendered to dozens of officers on a baseball diamond at a recreation center where Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was giving away toys to hundreds of young children.
"He picked the wrong rec center to run into today," said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith.