LONG BEACH, Calif. – A retirement home resident shot at firefighters who responded to a report of an explosion at the Southern California facility on Monday, killing a veteran fire captain and leaving a second firefighter and another resident wounded, officials said.
Investigators believe based on a preliminary investigation that the man, Thomas Kim, had set a fire early Monday morning to draw first responders to his second-floor apartment at the retirement home in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, and then opened fire, Police Chief Robert Luna said.
Kim, 77, was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson. Investigators were still working to determine Kim's motive, Luna said. It was not immediately known if he has an attorney.
The shooting happened shortly after firefighters arrived at the 11-story retirement facility around 4 a.m. and found some windows blown out, activated sprinklers, the smell of gas and a fire that they extinguished, authorities said. Firefighters were searching the building when shots rang out and the two firefighters were hit, Long Beach Fire Chief Michael DuRee said.
Fire Capt. Dave Rosa, who had worked for the department for 17 years, died at a hospital Monday morning, DuRee said. He is survived by a wife and two children — ages 16 and 25, the chief said.
The other firefighter, Ernesto Torres, was released from the hospital Monday and is expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
An elderly resident at the retirement home was also shot and was in critical but stable condition, said Police Chief Robert Luna. The specific circumstances of how the resident was shot were not immediately known.
"Long Beach lost a hero today," Mayor Robert Garcia said.
Eighty senior citizens remained evacuated from the retirement home Monday afternoon and were being offered health services and counseling at a local community center, the mayor said.
Dozens of firefighters stood at attention and saluted as the flag-draped coffin carrying Rosa's body was brought out of a hospital Monday afternoon and loaded into a coroner's van. Community members waved American flags along the street outside the hospital as the procession of police and fire vehicles escorted the van to the coroner's office.
Luna said a revolver was recovered after Kim was taken into custody Monday morning. He had a prior arrest for car theft, the chief said.
"There's still is a large puzzle we're trying to put together. There's still a lot of information we don't know," he said.
Investigators also found two "suspicious devices" when they arrested Kim and called the bomb squad to "render those safe," Luna said.
Detectives still have "a lot of questions about the devices that were found and the suspect's intent," Luna said.
"That's the environment we work in today, as law enforcement and firefighters. 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," Luna said earlier Monday.
Pamela Barr, who lives in the building, said she was awakened by fire alarms and didn't panic because false alarms are not uncommon. She tried to go back to sleep but then learned what was happening by watching TV news. Firefighters later evacuated the building and put residents on buses.
"This is a lot to deal with," said Barr, 73, as she sat with her son in a car, waiting to be allowed back in the tower, where she lives on the ninth floor on the opposite end of the building from where the fire occurred.
Barr said she hadn't heard of any troubles involving residents of the facility, where she has lived for seven years. She described it as clean, well run and secure.
Gloria Ford, 58, who lives a few blocks away, was awakened by screaming sirens earlier and came to check out the scene.
"I'm very sorry about it. I'm sick about it," she said about the death of the firefighter. "It's just mad."
The residential tower near downtown Long Beach has 100 apartments for low-income people age 62 and older as well as disabled adults over age 18, according to its website.
Long Beach is a major port city with a population of more than 400,000.
Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.