Two young men were killed and three others were wounded when a gun battle erupted between what investigators believe were rival gangs Tuesday on the rooftop parking lot at the Fox Hills shopping mall in Culver City, police said.
The incident began just before 6 p.m. with a dispute between two groups of teenagers in the mall's food court, said Culver City police spokeswoman Randi Joseph. As the argument escalated, eight to 10 young men walked out to the parking lot, she said.
Two Culver City plainclothes police officers were eating in the food court and saw the groups go outside, she said. The officers then heard five or six shots, Joseph said.
They ran outside and ordered the combatants to freeze, but some ran while others continued shooting, she said.
The officers also opened fire. In all, about 25 shots were fired by police and the gunmen, she said. Officials do not know whether the dead and wounded men were hit by police bullets or by shots fired by the rival groups, Joseph said.
Police said there were few people in the parking lot when the shooting occurred. But one shopper said there was "mass hysteria" inside the mall when people heard the shooting.
"Little children were shouting, 'They're shooting!' " said Michael Saunders of Los Angeles.
A woman who asked not to be identified said she was walking out of the mall behind the young men when "all of a sudden it was like bang, bang, bang! It was like someone was lying in wait for them."
John Edmonds, who works in an office building across the street, said he heard squealing tires, followed by several gunshots, a brief delay and then "a barrage of shots."
"I didn't know where it was coming from," Edmonds said. "I . . . ducked even though I was in my office."
Maurice Hill, who identified himself as a gang counselor from Los Angeles, said he was watching a newscast and saw someone he had grown up with being placed on a stretcher.
"I just pray to God that he's OK," Hill said. "There's no reason to be shooting and killing people."
About an hour after the shooting, sobbing teenagers gathered outside the police crime scene tape around the parking lot.
They would not identify themselves, but one said a friend was involved and had fled from police. That person had called the group and asked them to rush to the mall because he feared another friend might be dead.
One woman in the group, clutching a baby in one arm and holding a cell phone in the other, called UCLA Medical Center, trying unsuccessfully to find out if a friend was one of those wounded or killed.
Police detained for questioning four young men who had fled but were later apprehended, Joseph said.
The mall remained open to shoppers after the shooting, but customers with cars parked on the roof could not retrieve them until after 9 p.m. because police had closed off the crime scene.