Police and firefighters Tuesday escorted the body of a fire captain from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office to a mortuary in Orange County as investigators continue efforts to unravel what motivated a 77-year-old man to allegedly set off an explosion at a Long Beach home for low-income seniors and then open fire on rescuers who responded to the scene.
Capt. Dave Rosa, 45, a 17-year veteran with a wife and two children, was fatally shot while responding about 4 a.m. Monday to Covenant Manor, an 11-story building in the 600 block of East Fourth Street, the Long Beach Fire Department reported. A second firefighter — Ernesto Torres, 35, a 10-year veteran — suffered a graze wound and was treated at a hospital and released.
Torres is expected to make a full recovery.
A civilian resident of the building, reported to be a man in his 70s, was also wounded and was hospitalized in critical but stable condition following the shooting, according to the Long Beach Police Department.
The suspect, identified as Thomas Kim, also a resident of the senior housing facility, remained jailed Tuesday after being arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson.
Rosa’s body was initially taken to the coroner’s office in Boyle Heights. At about 3 p.m., a coroner’s van, escorted by police and fire department vehicles, left the facility en route to McCormick & Son mortuary in Laguna Hills. Fire department crews from several cities lined overpasses along the route to pay tribute to their fallen colleague.
Firefighters had been sent to Covenant Manor on 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.
Kim, who was initially detained as a “person of interest,” was later arrested and his bail set at $2 million, according to Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna.
A motive was unclear. Luna said at a news conference Monday afternoon 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 said.
Some of the approximately 80 residents who were evacuated as a precaution were temporarily accommodated at Silverado Park Community Center at 1545 W. 31st St., according to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.
The were allowed to return home late Monday afternoon, according to the mayor’s office.
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.
Rosa’s body was taken from Saint Mary Medical Center in Long Beach on 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 had remained with the body until it was transferred to the funeral home.
“I can’t make any sense of it,” Rosa’s cousin, Aaron Villareal told ABC7. “I don’t understand why this happened, I don’t get it.”
Kim’s older brother told the Long Beach Post that it had been years since he heard from the suspect, who is a retired civil engineer who graduated from Cal State Los Angeles.
George Kim said he and his brother came to the U.S. from South Korea in the 1960s.
A candlelight vigil for Rosa was held at Fire Station 10, where he was assigned.
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.
Meanwhile, messages of condolence continued to pour in from across the nation.
The Irvine Police Explorers hand-crafted mourning bands for Long Beach Fire Department and police personnel to wear on their badges in memory of Rosa.