The bullet that killed the assistant manager of the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s store during a police gun battle with a man who took dozens of people hostage inside the store was fired by a police officer, not the suspect, Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore confirmed Tuesday.
“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the split-second decisions that officers must make every day,” an emotional Moore told reporters during a morning news conference. “And it is also a sobering reminder of the destruction a lone individual with a handgun can create.”
Melyda Corado, 27, was killed around 3:30 p.m. Saturday when a man suspected of shooting his grandmother and girlfriend in South Los Angeles crashed a car in front of the Trader Joe’s market at the end of a police chase and fled inside, allegedly firing at pursuing officers as he ran.
Moore said the two officers — one a six-year veteran, the other a two-year veteran — fired a total of eight shots in return. One of them struck the suspect, 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins in the left arm, but another struck Corado, who managed to stumble back inside the store after being shot, collapsing behind the manager’s station.
Corado was dragged from the store a short time later while Atkins holed up inside, but paramedics were unable to save her.
“As chief of police, I am sorry for the loss, this tragic loss, not just to the Corado family, to her father, brother, (but) to her friends, to her work colleagues at Trader Joe’s,” Moore said. “This has been a devastating ordeal. On behalf of myself, and the men and women of this department, I want to express my deepest condolences and sympathy to her family and to everyone who knew her.
“I know that it is every officer’s worst nightmare, to harm an innocent bystander during a violent engagement,” Moore said. “I spoke to both of these officers this morning. They are devastated. They were devastated in the immediate aftermath of this event — that a person died in their efforts to stop Atkins.”
But Moore — dealing with the first high-profile officer-involved shooting since becoming chief at the beginning of July — stood behind his officers’ actions, urging people to put themselves in their shoes and reflect on how they would have reacted in the same situation, with shots being fired in their direction.
Moore said he believes the officers did “what they needed to do in order to defend the people of Los Angeles and defend the people in that store and defend themselves.”
Moore also released dash-camera and officer-body-camera footage of the chase that led up to the shooting in what he called an attempt to frame the circumstances of the shooting.
The suspect, Atkins, surrendered to police around 6:30 p.m. He is expected to be charged Tuesday with nearly two dozen counts, including murder, Moore said. Although Atkins did not fire the shot that killed Corado, he can be charged with her killing because he allegedly set off the chain of events that led to her death.
Atkins allegedly shot and wounded his 76-year-old grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Madison, and his 17-year-old girlfriend around 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the 1600 block of East 32nd Street. Authorities said the woman was shot as many as seven times and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Atkins then allegedly kidnapped the 17-year-old girl, forcing her into the passenger seat of his grandmother’s 2015 Toyota Camry then fleeing from the scene. Police traced him to the Hollywood area, where the two officers gave pursuit, ending in front of the Trader Joe’s store in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue when Atkins crashed the car into a light pole.
Atkins got out of the car and ran into the store, allegedly firing two rounds at the officers, who returned fire — striking the suspect and Corado.
The 17-year-old girlfriend was taken to a hospital and treated for a gunshot wound to the head, police said. She was listed in fair condition, according to police.
Moore said Atkins fired additional rounds at police from inside the store, but officers did not return fire. As many as 40 people were believed to be in the store at the time. Some managed to escape, and Atkins released others during the three-hour standoff that ensued. Atkins eventually surrendered around 6:30 p.m. and was booked on suspicion of murder.
Atkins was being held in lieu of $9 million bail, Moore said.
The Trader Joe’s store remained closed Monday, while a memorial of signs and flowers in memory of Corado continued to grow outside the building. A GoFundMe page set up to help cover her funeral expenses had raised nearly $25,000 as of midday Monday.
Atkins’ cousin, Charleo Egland, told City News Service she didn’t know exactly what prompted the shooting, but said the grandmother did not want Atkins’ girlfriend in the home, and that likely led to a fight that ended with the shooting.
Another cousin, Deshon Hayward, said in a statement Monday to ABC7 that Madison “is doing good and is in good spirits.”
“She has a long journey ahead but everything is looking good,” he said. “We would like to send our deepest condolences to everyone that was affected by this horrible tragedy.”
Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department said paramedics treated a total of 10 people at the scene of the Trader Joe’s, including Atkins, his girlfriend and Corado. Four people were hospitalized with minor injuries and three others were evaluated but declined to be taken to hospitals.
At the Tuesday morning news conference, Moore said he wanted to release the body-cam and dash-cam video to give a “snapshot” of what happened, and that a more comprehensive video would be released within 45 days of the shootout, under a new policy recently mandated by the Police Commission. A final report would be issued some time after that, which would include video and written materials.
He conceded that the video would likely be closely analyzed by the community and become the subject of discussion by police critics questioning the tactics. But he again asked people to ask “What would you have done?”
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is traveling out of the country, issued a statement saying: “Saturday was a dark day for the family of Melyda Corado, and it is our responsibility to shed light as quickly as possible on what happened. Melyda’s loved ones are entitled to answers — and Angelenos deserve complete transparency in understanding the full circumstances of her death.
“I met with Melyda’s father on Saturday to share my sorrow over his daughter’s death, and he has my commitment to a thorough investigation and helping the family in any way possible — as they take those first, enormously difficult steps toward coping with the trauma of losing such a vibrant, compassionate young woman who was loved by so many.”
There was no immediate response from Corado’s family. Her brother, Albert Corado, retweeted posts Tuesday morning about Moore’s announcement, but did not respond to the news that it was a police officer who shot his sister.
On Monday night, he commented about the growing memorial outside the Silver Lake market.
“The amount of people who have left flowers and notes and have lit candles is astonishing,” he wrote. “Saw so many of her coworkers and people who came to celebrate my sister’s life.”