LOS ANGELES — “I just shot at a cop,” the man with the gun and blood dripping from a bullet wound in his left arm told one of dozens of people he’d taken hostage inside a Los Angeles supermarket.
In a gripping account reported Friday by Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian, one of those hostages describes how she and others survived the ordeal on an oppressively hot July 21 afternoon.
“I told him, ‘There’s always hope. I know you have a good heart, and I know you don’t want to hurt anybody,'” MaryLinda Moss said she told Gene Atkins, as she placed her hand over his heart.
“When you put your hand on somebody’s heart,” she explained, “it grounds them. I was trying to ground him, and manipulate him, yes, in the best way.”
They had connected after the 28-year-old gunman, still bleeding, asked for help and Moss took off the shirt she was wearing over her tank top and wrapped his arm with it. Another hostage suggested he allow them to use his belt for a tourniquet and Atkins, without ever putting his gun down, complied.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Moss said he told her.
Police have said officers chased Atkins to the store after he shot his grandmother during an argument earlier in the day, then kidnapped his girlfriend and fled. He crashed his car into a light pole outside the Trader Joe’s in a trendy neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles called Silver Lake.
As he ran inside the store while exchanging gunfire with officers a 27-year-old store manager caught in the crossfire was struck by a police officer’s bullet and killed.
As his standoff with police stretched over three hours, Atkins shivered at one point and Moss headed to a stack of sweatshirts to get him one. That’s when she saw store manager Melyda Corado lying in a pool of blood.
“‘That’s not my fault,'” she said Atkins told her. “‘That was the police.'”
At another point during the standoff, Atkins released a hostage after the man told him he had left his two children outside in his car. He took the man’s cellphone before he left and police soon called him on it.
As they spoke, Atkins saw a SWAT officer on the roof of a nearby cheese shop with a gun pointed at him.
“Everyone is now absolutely terrified,” recalled Moss. “Gene is yelling, and he’s saying, ‘If you don’t get that guy off the roof, somebody’s going to get hurt and it’s going to be your fault just like it was with that other woman!'”
The officer backed off after Moss herself stepped into the line of fire.
Eventually, all but four of the hostages were released. Moss convinced Atkins to agree to let her and the others handcuff him and walk out together if police would throw a pair of handcuffs inside the door.
He has been charged with murder, attempted murder, false imprisonment and other crimes.
During the standoff, he told Moss he wished they had met sooner.
“I just needed someone to talk to,” he told her. The 55-year-old artist said she promised she’d visit him in prison.
“I do mean it,” she told Abcarian. “That doesn’t mean that he’s my ‘project’ or he’s my friend, but I was willing to be present with him that day and I would do that again.”