Police have arrested a man they believe set fire to his unit in a high-rise retirement home in Long Beach and then shot two firefighters responding to the blaze, killing one of them, authorities announced Monday afternoon.
Thomas Kim, 77, is also accused of shooting and wounding a third person, a resident at the retirement home, authorities said.
Kim was being held in lieu of $2 million bail on suspicion of murder, arson and two counts of attempted murder, according to police.
The slain firefighter is a 17-year veteran of the force, Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee said. DuRee identified him as Capt. David Rosa, a well-loved member of the force who spent years training young firefighters and working out of the city’s busiest fire stations. Rosa, 45, has a wife and two boys, ages 25 and 16, according to the chief.
“It’s a tough day,” DuRee said before beginning to cry Monday morning at a press conference in front of St. Mary Medical Center in Downtown Long Beach.
It is with deep sadness and tremendous grief that we announce that Captain David Rosa has died from injuries sustained from a gunshot wound he sustained at an emergency incident. Capt. Rosa is a 17 year veteran of our department and is assigned to Station 10. pic.twitter.com/np03fecLQb
— Long Beach Fire (CA) (@lbfd) June 25, 2018
Authorities said they’re still investigating whether the suspected shooter set the fires in order to lure first-responders into the building, but Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna said preliminary evidence points that direction.
“That’s the environment we work in today as law enforcement and firefighters,” Luna said at a morning press conference. “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.”
The second injured firefighter, identified as Ernesto Torres, 35, has been with the department for 10 years, authorities said. He sustained a graze wound and has been released from the hospital, according to Jake Heflin, a spokesman for the fire department.
Authorities couldn’t immediately provide details on the third person wounded other than to say he was at a nearby hospital in critical but stable condition.
The chaos Monday morning broke out around 3:49 a.m. at the 11-story Covenant Manor senior apartments at Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue, according to authorities.
There was an explosion in Kim’s second-floor apartment, followed by the ringing of fire alarms, according to Luna.
Firefighters arrived to blown-out windows, a fire burning and residents saying they’d smelled gas, according to Heflin. Minutes after the fire was doused around 4 a.m., someone started shooting, Heflin said.
“This is the first time we’ve ever experienced anything like this,” DuRee said.
An honor guard from the LAFD places a wreath in honor of Capt. Rosa. pic.twitter.com/06llfnd9xv
— Jeremiah Dobruck (@jeremiahdobruck) June 25, 2018
Police also found two suspicious devices in Kim’s apartment that were later handled by members of the bomb squad, Luna said.
Luna said Kim was still at the scene when police arrived and officers quickly took him into custody, although it’s unclear how they identified him as a suspect. Luna said they also found a handgun at the scene.
After being shot, Rosa was taken to St. Mary Medical Center along with the second firefighter, according to DuRee.
A procession carrying Rosa’s body left St. Mary around 12:30 p.m. Firefighters and police lined the street at attention as an engine from Rosa’s station, a coroner’s vehicle, police cars and a van carrying his family rolled by.
Brent Pickelsimer, wearing a bright orange uniform that identified him as a U.S. Forest Service medic, stood on the corner across from the hospital’s emergency room and saluted.
Pickelsimer, who lives in East Long Beach, said he felt the need to pay his respects to a fellow first-responder.
“All of us who volunteer for the public, we’re one big family,” he said.
Rosa’s body was taken to the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center where an honor guard will stand watch over him, Heflin said. The fire department’s attention will now turn to Rosa’s family to help with funeral plans and provide any comfort they can, according to Heflin.
“As we all know, Long Beach really lost a hero today, and the entire city, as well as our fire department, is mourning the loss of someone who’s very dear to our community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said at an afternoon press conference.
Today is an incredibly sad day for Long Beach and the Long Beach Fire Department. We’ve lost one of our local heroes and another is injured but stable. We are all praying and sending love to the families and our @lbfd team.
— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarciaLB) June 25, 2018
Because of the crime scene at their home, 77 seniors were evacuated from the Covenant Manor, officials said. Garcia said they’re being sheltered at the Silverado Park community center where they’ll get medical care and counseling.
Residents who live near the Covenant Manor described a chaotic scene this morning. Suzanne England, who lives in an apartment on Fourth Street, said she heard the gunshots.
“Yeah it woke us up, my husband, myself and my nephew,” she said. “It was early. And then they were beating on all of our doors early in the morning telling everybody to evacuate.
“They do a really great job and for this to have happened to them [the firefighters] is just a shame.”
Cookie, a resident of an apartment near Lime and 4th Street who declined to give her last name, said that she heard gunfire early this morning.
“We were up last night and we were watching TV and all of a sudden we just heard—we heard the sirens and everything coming so I don’t know if the fire was first or what—but we heard a lot of gunfire,” she said. “It wasn’t right here in the immediate area it didn’t seem like so we just turned off the lights and went on to sleep, but that’s normal around here, is gunfire.”
Staff writer Asia Morris contributed to this report.
Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.
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