Displaced Covenant Manor resident describes explosion from the floor beneath her apartment, gunshots

Suzanne Windmiller-Smith pushed herself back and forth in a wheelchair outside the Silverado Park gymnasium Monday while on the phone with her doctor, listing off 10 or so medications.

Hours earlier she heard an explosion beneath the floor of her retirement building about 5 miles away, and then later, gunshots.

“I didn’t spill a drop of coffee,” she said. “But my pills fell on me.”

More than 70 seniors are waiting to return to their homes at the Covenant Manor on Fourth Street near downtown after police say a gunman set fire to his apartment before shooting two firefighters, one of them fatally, and another resident of the building.

https://lbpost.com/news/crime/breaking-explosion-shooting-near-downtown-long-beach-retirement-home/

Windmiller-Smith was getting ready to watch the news at 4 a.m. when the chaos began with “a big boom,” she said.

She said she knew the man suspected of committing the violence, who police identified as Thomas Kim, 77, also a resident of the building.

“He’s been having some issues and, you know, I think [he’s] just got too much going on and got overwhelmed,” she said. “That’s just my opinion. I spoke to him on Saturday, and today this happens.”

Windmiller-Smith and others were first evacuated to Covenant Presbyterian Church next to their building, then bussed to the gym earlier Monday, where American Red Cross Disaster Relief and the city’s parks and recreation and health departments set up the facility to provide shelter overnight and for multiple days if need be, according to Gabriela Hurtado, a logistics specialist who works for the Long Beach Health Department.

However, it is not certain when they’ll be able to return home. According to Kevin Lee, spokesman for the City of Long Beach, the seniors don’t have an official answer on that yet. However, Mayor Robert Garcia said they may be able to return tonight.

“The entire city team is working together with community partners right now to get the displaced seniors back in their homes as soon as possible, hopefully by tonight,” Garcia told the Post. “Counseling and assistance are also being provided.”

Considering the circumstances, Hurtado said “people are smiling, they seem content with the situation right now, especially since they were able to bring their pets with them.

“We’ve provided some crossword puzzles, some word searches, anything to keep people distracted a little bit. We also have our mental health team here, as well, just going through, chatting with people, making sure everybody’s OK, so far no complaints.”

When the 82 displaced residents first arrived, the health department’s public health nurses, as well as social workers, conducted health assessments to find out any medical needs or mobility issues, said Hurtado. Now there are 77 at the gym; the other five left with family members.

Suzanne Windmiller-Smith outside the Silverado Park gymnasium. Photo by Asia Morris.

Windmiller-Smith said she thought the loud boom was a car crash, and called 911. She then heard her neighbor screaming that “her door was messed up and she couldn’t open it because smoke was coming in.”

She then saw firefighters, so she and her provider went to leave, but were told to go back inside her apartment because “a guy said there’s a man with a gun. So we raced back to my apartment, went in there, locked the door.”

“We heard two pops and [my provider] said, ‘those are gunshots.'”

Windmiller-Smith said she lives on the third floor, and that the explosion came from from the second floor.

She described Kim as having had some issues, and recently, “worse than in the past.”

She’s known him for three to four years and said he used to ride a bike, that “everyone could see him riding his bike.”

UPDATE | 6/26/18 at 10:34AM: The displaced residents were moved back into Covenant Manor late Monday, Lee confirmed with the Post. He added later that Long Beach Transit assisted in transporting them to their homes at approximately 5:45 p.m.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.
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