California gunman kills one, wounds three near polling stations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 9:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 11:38am

Authorities in California say a gunman is dead after killing a man and critically wounding two women not far from two polling places.

They say the assault rifle attack in the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa wasn’t election-related.

The assailant armed with a military-style rifle opened fire in a residential area, forcing authorities to secure the neighbourhood and shut down nearby polling places, sending voters scrambling to find alternate locations.

Authorities had said police were dealing with a female suspect who was heavily armed. But several witnesses interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said the shooter was a man.

At least one of the victims was heading to the polling station to vote, a law enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Ron Singleton said two people were airlifted to an area hospital. The third victim, a man in his 70s, was dead at the scene, he said.

The shooting began about 2pm locals time after a report of gunfire, Azusa Police Chief Steve Hunt said.

Officers arrived to find multiple shooting victims and a suspect with a rifle, he said.

The suspect was armed with an assault rifle with “a rapid fire capability”, Hunt said.

The shooter immediately fired at least 20 shots at police, said the source.

Under a hail of gunfire, officers took cover and returned shots at the assailant, who retreated into a home, said the source, who requested anonymity because the case was ongoing. No officers were injured in the shooting.

“After the initial exchange of gunfire, there were victims down at the scene,” Hunt said. “We had to extract them from the scene.”

Officers surrounded the shooter surrounded and evacuated the area, the source said.

“This is a very volatile and critical situation,” Azusa Police Officer Jerry Willison said.

Roberto Chavez, 67, and his wife were sitting outside on their porch when they saw a heavily armed man fire at least 10 rounds at a group of people.

Police quickly responded, Chavez said. About 20 officers swarmed into the neighbourhood in the 600 block of West Fourth Street, he said.

The gunman, who wore a white shirt and black pants, ran into a home about three doors down from Chavez’s house, he said.

Chavez said he recognised the man as someone who frequently visits and hangs out at his neighbour’s home. He didn’t know the man’s name. He said some of the victims appeared to be neighbours in the area.

Police told him to remain indoors because the gunman had barricaded himself inside a home.

“It’s a very dangerous situation,” he said.

Fabiola Moreno, 47, had just finished making a sandwich for her five-year-old granddaughter and was walking to the living room where her granddaughter was watching television when she heard three gunshots.

“I thought it was just fireworks,” Moreno said, “But then I thought about it and it really sounded more like gunshots.”

Moreno walked outside of her home to look and saw a man dressed in a white T-shirt with a black vest and black pants. He was armed and was walking away from the parking lot of Memorial Park.

She said the man stopped to reload his weapon and noticed her.

“I just ran inside,” she said. “I secured the door, grabbed my granddaughter and ran into the bathroom, and we locked ourselves there.”

She said from inside, she heard police sirens and more gunshots.

“I don’t know if he shot at the police or they shot at him, but it was several gunshots,” Moreno said. “I was afraid a bullet would come through the walls of the house.”

Moreno spoke to The Times by phone while locked in the room.

Azusa Unified School District issued a lockdown for Slauson Middle and Mountain View Elementary schools about 2.15pm, officials said. A nearby day-care centre and preschool was also locked down.

Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan said the shooting affected two polling stations.

He urged voters to avoid the area and “if necessary, cast a ballot at an alternate polling location”.