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LAPD Says Trader Joe's Employee Was Killed by Officer's Bullet in Standoff

You’ve heard of the Stockholm syndrome, but now we have what some officers in the Los Angeles Police Department are calling the “Silverlake syndrome.”

Police allege that on Saturday, Gene Atkins, 28, shot his grandmother and a 17-year-old girl in South Los Angeles, then kidnapped the girl and escaped in the grandmother’s Toyota. The car was equipped with a Lojack device, and soon it was found by officers on patrol several miles away in Hollywood. When the officers tried to pull the car over, Atkins raced off and a chase ensued, during which Atkins fired at the pursuing officers.

The chase ended in the Silver Lake area of L.A., where Atkins crashed into a telephone pole in front of the Trader Joe’s market. Atkins jumped from the Toyota firing at police, two of whom returned fire as Atkins ran toward the store entrance. Atkins was hit in the arm, but, sadly, a police bullet also struck and killed Melyda Corado, a 27-year-old assistant manager of the Trader Joe’s.

What followed was a three-hour standoff, during which a police negotiator talked by telephone with Atkins, who veered wildly between periods of calm lucidity and agitated confusion. There were several employees and customers in the store, some of whom hid in the back of the building, others of whom escaped via a rope ladder lowered from an upper-floor window. Atkins allowed others to walk out the front door, including those who carried the mortally wounded Corado to the paramedics whose efforts would prove futile.

During one of his calmer moments, Atkins told the negotiator he would release all the hostages and face his predicament alone. But four of them, as overheard by the negotiator, vowed to remain with Atkins so as to ensure his safety. Think about that: these four people made the choice to place themselves in peril on behalf of a man who had already shot two people, attempted to shoot several others, and who had, legally and morally speaking, caused the death of a young woman (about which more below). They didn’t want the police to hurt him, they told Atkins.

So unstable was Atkins perceived to be that a police SWAT team was preparing to enter the store and confront him. It is fortunate for all concerned that such a measure was unnecessary, as Atkins at last surrendered. One can imagine a scenario in which the four well-intentioned but foolish hostages acted as human shields even as Atkins tried to shoot any officers who entered the store. As bad as the outcome was, it could have been far worse. Today Atkins faces 31 felony counts, including murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping. Will Atkins’s four guardians, like their predecessors in Stockholm, refuse to testify against him when his case goes to court?