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Father Shot, Child Freed as Standoff Ends

Crime: Santa Ana police recover the girl unharmed in 23-hour hostage drama. The gunman is reported in critical condition in Orange hospital.


A 23-hour standoff between police and a gunman holding his baby daughter hostage inside a Santa Ana home ended Wednesday afternoon when officers shot the suspect and recovered the girl unharmed.

It was a sudden end to a hostage drama that begin as a domestic dispute between the man and his ex-girlfriend and was punctuated several times by the suspect's gunfire.

Gabriel Anthony Leon, 25, was in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange with wounds to the lower back and groin, authorities said.

His daughter was reunited with her mother. During the standoff, Leon told police that he had fed his daughter and changed her diaper. He also threatened to hurt himself and the baby.

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Baltazar De La Riva said Leon was "one of the most aggressive suspects we've encountered in some time," firing three times at officers and once at the toddler's mother.

The incident began Tuesday afternoon when Maribel Ramirez brought Alexis, the daughter she had with Leon, to his grandmother's house on West Wilshire Avenue for a visit, according to police. The two were not married and did not live together. Leon stayed at the grandmother's house occasionally.

Leon and Ramirez argued, then Ramirez ran from the bedroom and Leon fired a shot at her, according to police.

Authorities arrived around 2:30 p.m. with an armored vehicle. They evacuated dozens of nearby residents, and SWAT members took positions behind fences and on roofs. Leon's worried relatives converged on the neighborhood and slept on cots the Red Cross placed on the sidewalk.

During the ordeal, Leon walked outside the house several times, his curly-haired daughter cradled in his arms. One time Leon held his gun to her stomach. In another instance early Wednesday, as police tried to break down the front door, he fired shots with one hand while holding his daughter with the other.

About 11:45 a.m., Leon walked to the porch carrying his daughter. Police blasted him with a water hose, and he ran back inside.

The standoff ended about 1 p.m. Wednesday when Leon, wearing a baseball cap, walked backward out of the house, apparently talking to himself.

Leaving the baby inside, he walked onto the driveway. He turned toward police and appeared to reach into his waistband or pull up his shirt.

De La Riva said officers ordered Leon to surrender. When he refused, they shot him. He said they found the gun on his body, but would not say whether he was holding it. As police rushed to the man, Jessica Mendoza, the mother of his 8-year-old daughter, became hysterical, screaming "Gabriel, Gabriel!"

Santa Ana police said Leon is on parole for assault with a deadly weapon.


Times staff photographer Karen Tapia-Andersen contributed to this report.

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