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Residents Tell of Fear, Close Calls

Glendale tenants return to homes a day after gunman's rampage. It is uncertain whether the shooter killed himself.

May 31, 2003|David Pierson and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

One wall of Pen Oun's apartment is punctured by more than 40 bullet holes. Remnants of tear gas seep in through the holes. Everything in the apartment is coated with dust and bits of shattered plaster.

But Oun considers herself lucky.

When the man in the unit next door opened fire, she said, his first shots went through his windows and a wall facing a balcony, away from her apartment.

She was in the shower at the time, and she was able to grab a towel and her 22-month-old son and dash downstairs to safety before the man started shooting into her apartment.

"If I'd stayed there any longer, I probably would have died," Oun said Friday as she and scores of other residents were finally allowed to return to the Griffith Park Dude Ranch apartments in Glendale.

A day earlier, Oun's neighbor, armed with an assault rifle and six other guns, fired about 200 shots from his apartment overlooking the Golden State Freeway in a barrage that continued, off and on, for more than 45 minutes, according to Glendale police.

After a standoff that had lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours, punctuated by several brief exchanges of gunfire between police and the gunman, officers lobbed tear gas into the man's apartment. They then stormed inside, where they found Jorge Beeton, 47, a former security guard licensed to carry a firearm, dead on the floor.

Despite all the gunfire, no one else was wounded.

The coroner's office said Friday that Beeton had suffered multiple gunshot wounds. It was not immediately clear whether the wounds were self-inflicted or caused by police gunfire. Lt. Ed Winter of the coroner's office said the death was tentatively listed as either a suicide or a homicide.

Beeton's motives remained unclear Friday, but fellow residents at the Dude Ranch apartments described him as a troubled loner who may have been depressed by the loss of his job as a security guard several months ago.

Police sealed off the entire apartment complex on Paula Avenue as a crime scene on Thursday, evacuating all the residents.

Tenants were not allowed to return to their homes until Friday morning. Most had spent the night at a Red Cross shelter, set up at nearby Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, or with friends.

Oun returned Friday morning to find her unit a mess, reeking from tear gas leaking through the wall from Beeton's apartment.

In addition to the bullet-pocked wall, dust and bits of plaster, she found nine spent bullets on the floor.

Oun said she was washing her hair in the shower when the shooting began. As she and her son ran down the outside stairs, Oun said, she saw the plaster wall facing the balcony in front of Beeton's apartment explode with gunfire.

Oun said she and her son ran to a stable in the back of the building, where they took refuge.

Acting on the advice of a man who was delivering horse feed, she clambered over a fence with her son in her arms and dashed across the nearly dry Los Angeles River to Griffith Park, Oun said.

Heidi Schmidt, 42, said she was behind the apartment complex, cleaning the cages where she keeps her pet rabbits, when the shooting started.

A few minutes later, police arrived and the gun battle began, Schmidt said.

"I was so close, right in the cross-fire," she said.

"The police shouted, 'Ma'am, get down!' " Schmidt said.

"I ran around the corner, crawled over the fence and crossed the river."

Stella Segura, whose unit is in a building adjacent to the one occupied by Beeton and Oun, was not that near the gunfire, but she said the whole experience left her "mentally fried."

She said she spent the night at a friend's home, worrying much of the time about the fate of her two dogs and three cats, which she had to leave behind. Segura said she found the animals were fine when she was allowed to return home at 6 a.m. Friday.

One resident said she and her son camped for the night at a nearby park. She said they had planned to spend the night at the Red Cross shelter, but said there was too much snoring.

*

Times staff writer Michael Krikorian contributed to this report.

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