LONG BEACH—A 77-year-old man is jailed Tuesday for allegedly shooting and killing a veteran fire captain and wounding a second firefighter and a civilian as crews responded to an explosion and fire at a high-rise Long Beach apartment building housing low-income seniors.
The Long Beach Fire Department firefighters had been sent to Covenant Manor, an 11-story building in the 600 block of East Fourth Street, about 3:50 a.m. Monday in response to a report of a possible explosion at the facility. A fire alarm had been set off, and the sprinkler system had been activated, the LBFD reported.
Capt. Dave Rosa, 45, a 17-year veteran with a wife and two children, was fatally wounded, the LBFD reported. The other wounded firefighter -- Ernesto Torres, 35, a 10-year veteran -- suffered a graze wound and was treated at a hospital and released.
A third person, a Covenant Manor resident whose name was withheld, was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery. He was in critical but stable condition Monday afternoon, according to Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna.
Covenant Manor resident Thomas Kim, who was initially detained as a "person of interest," was later arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson, with bail set at $2 million, Luna said.
A motive was unclear. Luna said the investigation remains "a large puzzle that we're trying to put together and there's a lot of information that we don't know yet."
Kim had been arrested "many years ago" on suspicion of auto theft, Luna said.
Luna said investigators, including a team from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office that deals with violent crimes against police and firefighters, were looking into the possibility that Kim caused the fire to draw victims into an ambush.
"That is a possibility," Luna said. "That is one option that we're looking at and that will be investigated because obviously if that's the case we want to know why and we want to get the information out to our partner agencies to make sure they're aware of the situation."
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department bomb squad was sent to examine two suspicious devices which were found at the scene and eventually rendered them safe and removed gasoline from the premises. A handgun was also recovered, according to Luna.
Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also assisting in the investigation, agency spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun told the Los Angeles Times.
About 80 residents who were evacuated as a precaution were being temporarily accommodated at Silverado Park Community Center at 1545 W. 31st St., according to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.
Rosa's body was taken from Saint Mary Medical Center in Long Beach Monday afternoon to the coroner's facility near downtown Los Angeles in a coroner's van that was escorted by a procession of fire and law enforcement vehicles. An honor guard was to remain with the body until it is transferred to a funeral home.
LBFD Chief Mike Duree, who announced Rosa's death at a Monday briefing at the hospital, said "initial reports came in that there was some type of explosion" on the third floor of the senior living home.
"At 3:51 a.m., occupants reported the smell of ... gasoline," he said. "Occupants were instructed to shelter in place. As fire units made their way to the reported location, they noticed that windows had been blown out ... in the general vicinity of an affected unit, and that sprinklers had been activated.
"At 3:59 a.m., the fire units stated they had knocked down the initial fire. At 4:08 a.m., (there were reports of shots fired) at the location. We had two firefighters that were shot."
The windows were blown out on the building's second floor, authorities said.
A candlelight vigil for Rosa was held at Fire Station 10, where he was assigned.
"I can't make any sense of it," Rosas' cousin, Aaron Villareal told ABC7. "I don't understand why this happened, I don't get it."
"This tragic and senseless loss is a blow to our whole city," said Long Beach City Councilman Dee Andrews, whose Sixth District includes Fire Station 10. "My thoughts and prayers are with Captain Rosa's family and will all the first responders who work hard to protect us every day."
Garcia said Rosa was "well-loved in Long Beach among his peers but also in the community as well."
Garcia said Rosa and other first responders who entered the building and searched for other possible victims even before Kim was apprehended are "heroes who run toward danger every single day, and today was no exception."
Jake Heflin, a fire department spokesman, said Rosa was a mentor to new firefighters and paramedics.
"That's the kind of person that Dave was," Heflin said.
Gov. Jerry Brown released a statement expressing condolence and sadness over the killing.
Rosa is survived by his wife, Lynley, and sons Alec, 25, and Samuel, 16.
In his honor, flags will be flown at half-staff at the Capitol in Sacramento.