A gunman shot and killed a sheriff's deputy today, then barricaded himself inside a home that caught fire and burned down several hours after police surrounded the building in a Los Angeles suburb.
Deputy Jake Kuredjian was shot as he tried to serve James Beck a warrant for his arrest at Beck's Santa Clarita, Calif., home at 8:30 a.m. local time. 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 was heavily armed and would start shooting at them. Fire trucks concentrated on hosing down neighboring homes to prevent the blaze from spreading.
It is unclear how the three-hour blaze started. SWAT officers had surrounded the gunman's home, and lobbed tear gas inside. Smoke billowed from second-floor windows before the flames erupted. Authorities believe Beck torched the house himself, Sheriff's Deputy Harry Drucker said.
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, Drucker said, fire crews hosed down what was left of the house to enable Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to gather evidence and perhaps Beck's remains.
"The fire is now out," Drucker said during an afternoon press conference. "The fire department is hosing down the area so it can cool down and the sheriff's department can go in and gather forensic evidence and give an update on the status Mr. Beck or his remains."
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 today'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.
There was an early report that a federal ATF agent was also wounded, but Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David Cervantes said the agent was fine.
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.