Investigators presume that a gunman suspected of killing a sheriff's deputy during a shootout in a quiet Los Angeles suburb on Friday is dead after barricading himself inside a home that burned down.
Deputy Jake Kuredjian was shot as he tried to serve Martin Beck a warrant for his arrest at his Santa Clarita, Calif., home at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. After shooting Kuredjian, authorities said, Beck barricaded himself in his home and fired at officers during negotiations for a peaceful surrender.
Almost four hours after the standoff began, a fire broke out in the home. Fire crews rushed to the scene, but police did not let them get close at first out of fear that Beck would start shooting at them. Fire trucks concentrated on hosing down neighboring homes to prevent the blaze from spreading.
It was still unclear whether Beck torched the house himself or if the fire was sparked by tear-gas projectiles SWAT teams shot into his home.
Gunman’s Fate Uncertain
Law enforcers hoped the fire would force Beck's surrender. But no one saw Beck leave the house, and police said he appeared to remain holed up as the home burned down. With the fire extinguished, Sheriff's Deputy Harry Drucker said, fire crews hosed down what was left of the house to enable Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to gather evidence and also search for Beck's body.
Kuredjian was shot in the upper body as he was helping federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents issue an arrest warrant for Beck. Authorities were familiar with Beck, who had allegedly been impersonating a federal law enforcer and stockpiling weapons.
"We had been investigating the suspect for three months," said ATF agent Bernard Zapor."The suspect is a convicted felon. … we had had contact with him before."
Zapor refused to discuss Beck's record or the circumstances that led to Friday's attempted arrest because they were sealed in a federal warrant. But the U.S. Marshals Service told The Associated Press that Beck had two prior convictions for burglary and impersonating a police officer. Beck also worked for the Arcadia Police Department for one year, but was fired because he didn't pass probation, Chief Dave Hinig told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, slain deputy Kuredjian's fellow officers took his death hard, as a shaken Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca tearfully announced his death while police tried to negotiate a peaceful ending to the standoff.
"During the course of his effort to apprehend this suspect, Deputy Kuredjian was shot with what we believe is one shot and therein fatally wounded," said Baca. "I would like to express my deep sorrow to his family who were notified and are on their way."
Random Gunfire, A Neighborhood in Danger
Witnesses said the gunman fired hundreds of shots during negotiations for his surrender.
"There was three or four exchanges where I know that many people were emptying their guns," said Alan Tuftuski, a neighborhood resident. "Because it was just rapid.… Bah! Bah! Bah! Bah! Bah! Then it would die down and start up again."
Police said they tried to handle the standoff as cautiously as they could and their priority was the safety of the officers and the neighborhood residents.
"We tried to do everything in a most safe and efficient manner that we could," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Don Kinkaid. "And our hearts go out to the family and friends of the slain deputy."
Law enforcement officials urged several Santa Clarita residents to leave their homes when the standoff began because they believed Beck was heavily armed. Santa Clarita is 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles near Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park.
ABC affiliate KABC in Los Angeles contributed to this report.