Firefighter fatally shot while responding to fire alarm at senior home

Joseph Serna, Melissa Etehad and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Emergency responders across Southern California were mourning the loss of one of their own Monday, after a gunman shot and killed a Long Beach firefighter who was investigating a fire alarm at a high-rise senior living facility.

Fire Capt. Dave Rosa, 45, was fatally shot while investigating reports of an explosion and the smell of gasoline inside the Covenant Manor senior care facility about 4 a.m., said Long Beach Fire Chief Mike Duree.

Rosa and another firefighter were struck by gunfire while inside the 11-story building helping to trace what had triggered the building’s sprinkler system and forced residents to shelter in place, said Jake Heflin, a spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department. A third person, a civilian, was also shot and is expected to survive, police said.

The firefighters were near the unit where the blast occurred when shots rang out and Rosa and the second firefighter were hit, officials said. Both were taken to trauma centers. The second firefighter is 35 and is in stable condition, Duree said.

“This is a tough day,” Duree said, his voice choking with emotion and his eyes welling with tears.

Police took one person into custody. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna described him as a person of interest. A weapon was recovered at the scene, Luna said.

As news of Rosa’s death spread, neighboring agencies reached out to offer their support.

“Captain Rosa was a hero doing what all first responders are called to do – help those in need during their time of need,” tweeted Michel Moore, the Los Angeles mayor’s choice to be the next Los Angeles police chief.

“We grieve with our partners in Long Beach and offer our steadfast support during this difficult time,” tweeted Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

Hours after the shooting, police had blocked off streets near the facility with caution tape and squad cars. Curious residents who walked by asked each other if they knew what happened. About a block away from the crime scene, officials wearing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives jackets were huddled together in a discussion.

Covenant Manor hosts 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments for low-income people who are 62 years or older or disabled adults over 18 years old, said James Park, a spokesman for HumanGood, the nonprofit senior living provider network that runs the facility.

Park said the property is one of 63 affordable-housing communities that HumanGood runs across the country.

The identity of the person in custody has not been released and a motive for the shooting was not immediately known.

When asked if the firefighters were ambushed by the shooter, Luna replied: “That is definitely on the table.”

“We’re going to be looking at that. That’s the environment we work at today, as law enforcement and firefighters,” Luna said. “You go to these scenes and you never know what’s on the other side of those doors. And these brave firefighters went through those doors, and unfortunately, they were met with gunfire.”

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad unit was dispatched to the scene to investigate two devices in the area that were deemed suspicious, Luna said.

Ginger Colbrun, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman, said agents were on the scene to assist with the investigation.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Long Beach’s former police chief, said: “It is a tragic loss. Long Beach is the biggest small town in America. Everyone knows everyone and this loss is being felt hard across the city.”

Approximately 54 senior citizens who live at the facility were evacuated to Covenant Presbyterian Church, from which buses then took them to Silverado Park.

At 10:30 a.m., some elderly people sat on couches at the church, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.

Church volunteer Ruben Lindely, 81, helped distribute food and water and said folks were in dire need of a place to rest. “I knew right away that they needed my help, so I came,” Lindely said. “One person was really upset that he had to leave his home.” Lindely helped escort the senior citizens to buses to the park, where nurses were awaiting to help take care of them.

Natalia Hambartsumova, 85, has been living at the facility since 2013. She said that around 3:45 a.m., an emergency alert system woke her up. When she got to the second floor, she said, she saw firefighters and asked them what was going on. “They told me everything will be alright,” she said.

Rob Langworthy, co-pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, said he was grateful he was able to help. He arrived at the church around 7:30 a.m. and said residents who had been evacuated were in dire need of restrooms and rest.

“Many people have been up since 3:45 a.m.,” Langworthy said. He added that his church had extra wheelchairs and walkers for people who didn’t have time to grab theirs from their apartment. “We’re glad we could do what we did.”

Monday afternoon, a procession led Rosa’s body to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Overpasses on the 710 Freeway were adorned with American flags flying at half-mast, witnesses reported.