First LAPD SWAT Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

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Investigators are trying to determine the motive behind the shooting deaths of four people in the San Fernando Valley Thursday, including a veteran LAPD SWAT officer. Police killed the gunman at the end of the overnight standoff at the man's home. Police have not released the names of the gunman or his victims. The SWAT officer was the first killed in the line of duty in the 41-year history of the elite unit. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: The shooting occurred in Winnetka, tucked above the 101 freeway across from Woodland Hills in the western San Fernando Valley. It's a working class neighborhood with older houses and uneven asphalt streets. Marcy Spencer remembered police arriving at a home across the street from her's. She heard them use bullhorns to communicate with the man inside.

Marcy Spencer: They negotiated for a long time. You know, they just begged him to answer the phone, come to the door, we want to talk, we know you have problems. We're not going to hurt you, we're not going to arrest you.

Stoltze: Shortly after midnight, she heard a series of flash grenades and gunshots.

Spencer: I don't know what that thing is called, but you know, they put it through the window and it does the big flare light, and it's loud, it's like a cannon. We heard one of those and then a couple of shots. And then another one, you know, a loud boom with the light. And then a couple of more shots. And then at that point we stayed back in our room, because my room is in the back of the house.

Stoltze: Spencer peeked outside in time to see paramedics arriving, and leaving, quickly. LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Moore said the incident started with a 911 call.

Deputy Chief Michael Moore: A male caller telephoned 911 and reported that he had killed a number of individuals, and come and get 'em.

Stoltze: Moore said police determined that some of the victims were still alive, and decided to forcibly enter the house three hours after they arrived and surrounded it. A source familiar with the incident said police heard victims groaning on an open telephone line into the house. Moore said SWAT officers immediately encountered gunfire when they entered.

Moore: Two of our officers were met immediately with that gunfire and went down. The officers pushed forward in their tactical plan, discovered three victims down inside, victims of apparent gunshot wounds, all males, in different parts of the residence.

Stoltze: SWAT officers retreated, dragging their wounded colleagues and one of the victims outside. Fifty-one-year-old officer Randy Simmons died less than an hour later with a gunshot wound to his face. Fifty-one-year-old officer James Veenstra was seriously wounded; he had also been shot in the face. All of the male victims inside the house died.

It would be more than six hours before officers assaulted the house again, freeing a woman who had been hiding in a closet and fatally shooting the gunman. The house burned, apparently after a flash grenade set it on fire. The LAPD's SWAT team handles the department's most dangerous work. LAPD Chief Bill Bratton said deceased officer Simmons was one of the best of the best, an expert hostage negotiator who had worked in the elite unit for more than two decades.

Chief Bill Bratton: Lieutenant Albanese, commanding officer of the SWAT, described him as the rock. The rock on which all others sought to anchor themselves.

Stoltze: The chief described fellow SWAT officers, some of the most hardened cops on the force, crying at the news of Simmons' death. Colleagues described Simmons as more than a good police officer: he led SWAT's annual toy drive with Children's Orthopedic Hospital and ministered to kids at Glory Christian Fellowship Church in Carson. He started the church's mobile ministry called "Glory Kids" in 1977. LAPD Captain David Baca went through peer counseling with Simmons when both were involved in shootings years ago.

Captain David Baca: I think it is a, it is a... terrible, terrible tragedy, and I can only grieve, and at the same time in the next moment think of the positivity that we'll all be left with that we can take out of this, and that is to point to the example of not so much how Randy died, but how he lived.

Stoltze: Baca already wore a black ribbon across his badge, a gesture of mourning for a downed office