ANAHEIM — The older of the two teenage robbers gulped malt liquor during the police standoff and poured his heart out to his hostages. At one point, he asked to die.
"He kept asking us to take his gun and shoot him," said Diana TerBush, 47, of Anaheim, one of 20 people taken captive late Wednesday during a botched takeover robbery of an Albertsons supermarket. "He said he had a rough life and caused his mother a lot of heartache and wanted to die so she wouldn't have any more heartache."
"He's just a real confused kid," said TerBush, who helped coax the gunman to eventually turn himself in by telling him his mother would be devastated if he died in a shootout with police.
The 5 1/2-hour ordeal ended peacefully early Thursday. After the pair released their captives, the older gunman, Glenn Parks, 19, of Los Angeles, walked shirtless out the front door and surrendered, police said.
The other suspect, a 17-year-old Anaheim youth, ignored phone calls and police requests via megaphone. SWAT team members eventually made an aisle-by-aisle search of the store and found him hiding in the attic.
During the takeover and standoff, the teenagers assured their hostages that they wouldn't hurt them, that their guns weren't loaded, that they just wanted money. They were even polite.
Many of the hostages reciprocated the teens' assurances with their own concerns for the youths' welfare.
The hostages were individuals who, for a variety of reasons, found themselves in the neighborhood market about 10:50 p.m. Wednesday when the two teens walked into the store, at 610 S. Brookhurst St., police said.
"We were at the checkout counter when these two guys just came in and said, 'This is a stickup,' " said TerBush, a former teacher's aide who was shopping with her son.
She said the older teenager told the hostages: "I don't want to hurt anybody. I don't want to shoot anybody. I don't want your money, so just be calm."
Masoud Anwary, 25, of Anaheim walked into the middle of it all.
"I wanted some eggs, milk, onions and tomatoes, and I see these two guys grabbing the cash and food stamps out of the registers one by one by one and telling the store manager to empty the vault," he recalled. "One of the robbers said, 'Can you please come over here and stand next to these two people? There's a robbery here.' "
Confusion took over when the younger teenager glanced out the front door, began cursing and yelled, "There's a cop outside."
The pair ran for the back door. Fearing he would remain hostage for hours if he didn't escape, Anwary took his chance to run out the front--where the waiting officers held their shotguns on him. "I said, 'Wait a minute--I'm not a bad guy; I'm just a shopper,' " Anwary recounted.
The suspects, meanwhile, went out the rear exit but ran back inside after spotting some of the 50-plus officers surrounding the building, Police Lt. Joe Reiss said. Officers responded when someone reported "suspicious activity" at the store.
After they cleaned out the registers, the teenagers waited to empty the safe, said police. "It appears they stayed in the store just long enough for us to get there," said Police Lt. John Haradon.
When they realized they were surrounded, the teenagers threatened to burn the money but instead decided to start letting people go.
Reiss said the first two hostages were released at 12:15 a.m. Another four, including TerBush and her son, were let go 30 minutes later. The remaining 14 hostages were released about 1 a.m., police said.
Then police negotiators began working on the teens, trying to persuade them to surrender.
Parks turned himself in about 2:20 a.m., police said. More than a dozen Anaheim SWAT officers found the second teen about 4 a.m.
"I think he was hoping we would overlook him and he'd be able to escape later on," Haradon said.
Parks was booked into the Anaheim City Jail on suspicion of armed robbery, and bail was set at $50,000. The other teen was being held without bail at Orange County Juvenile Hall.
Haradon said police are thankful that the situation ended peacefully, because there's always the danger of violence if the robbers panic, get upset or simply make a mistake.
"Things can get out of hand real quick," Haradon said.
A similar incident at the same store two decades ago ended with the death of a checkout clerk.
Three gunmen forced about 20 customers and employees to the floor in the Oct. 7, 1976, robbery before Jack Warren Mason, 20, of Stanton was shot and killed.
Hostages in Wednesday night's holdup said the older teen tried to allay their fears by saying his gun wasn't loaded. The handgun found later in his waistband was empty, police said, but officers found a loaded pistol when they searched the store.
Anwary said the teens "were joking with people and said, 'If we stay here all night, we've got food, we've got restrooms. We're not going to do anything with you guys.' "
"They were very nice," he added.
The phenomenon in which hostages begin to sympathize with their captors is known as the Stockholm Syndrome. But what happened Wednesday night and Thursday morning was more likely just a case of people feeling sorry for gunmen who they believed meant them no harm, said USC psychology professor Adrian Raine.
During the ordeal, relatives and friends of the hostages waited and worried until they were told that their loved ones were safe.
Norma Malanga, mother of 20-year-old Paul Malanga, who was working at the store as a box boy, was relieved when she spotted her son on television.
"I was just so nervous," she said. "I feel so bad for the two boys, though. They must have some kind of goodness in their hearts because they let everybody go. I hope they find peace with themselves. I feel sorry for them. Hopefully, they will learn from their stupid mistake."