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Long Beach hospital shootings make 'no sense'

The pharmacy technician who killed his 2 supervisors and himself is described as a good-natured person and loving father.

April 18, 2009|James Wagner and Jessica Garrison

Hours before he walked into his workplace at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center with two handguns to fatally shoot his bosses and then himself, Mario Ramirez went about his morning routine with his usual kindness and good cheer, his sister-in-law said.

He gave his children breakfast, took them to school (he had moved his family to Alhambra because its classrooms seemed safer than those in Boyle Heights) and returned home to get ready for his job as a technician at the hospital's pharmacy.

Then he went to work and shot his two immediate supervisors, Hugo Bustamante, 46, and Kelly Hales, 56. After Ramirez's noontime rampage, many of his colleagues speculated that he had turned to violence because he feared being laid off.

Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts noted that the shooting might be part of a "national trend" of workplace-related shootings by people distraught about economic losses.

But friends of Bustamante said that made no sense. Bustamante, Ramirez's boss and the pharmacy manager, had recently been telling friends that he was overjoyed he had found a way to rejigger the pharmacy's schedule to cut the budget without layoffs.

"He knew that they were talking about layoffs . . . he was really stressing out about it, but he figured out that they could open the pharmacy later and close it earlier and not cut jobs," said Bernadette Arizmendi, who coached the Cypress Cyclones youth soccer team with Bustamante. "He was so happy."

Officials with the Long Beach Police Department and the medical center said Friday that they could offer no further insight into what might have sparked Ramirez's shootings. Police said they may never know for sure.

That left the families and friends of Ramirez and his victims searching for answers as they mourned. Distraught, many described both Bustamante and Ramirez as loving, responsible fathers committed to their families and to their jobs at the medical center.

A friend of Ramirez's at the hospital, who did not want to be named because he feared for his own job, said he saw Ramirez coming into work the day before the shootings.

When asked how he was, Ramirez answered: "Great." His voice, the friend said, was full of "that good spirit that he had. He gave me a high-five. . . . It don't make no sense."

Eva Reyes, 52, Ramirez's sister-in-law, said Ramirez had seemed absolutely normal Thursday morning as he bid his wife goodbye and took care of his sons, ages 10 and 14.

"It was all the same," she said in Spanish. "There is no reason why he did this. He got along with his supervisors, and as far as we can tell, they liked him a lot. He was the last person they would have laid off."

Reyes said her sister had been married to Ramirez for almost 17 years. For some of that time, the families lived in two adjacent houses on the same lot in Boyle Heights. But about two years ago, the Ramirezes moved to Alhambra, seeking a bigger house and better schools, according to friends and neighbors.

Even after they moved, Mario Ramirez would check on Reyes, who lives alone with her two children. "That's just the way he is," she said.

Former neighbors Rich Herried and his wife, Patricia Vega, both 59, described Ramirez as a loving but often strict father.

"He wanted to get his kids out of this area because he was afraid of the gangs," Herried said of their old Boyle Heights neighborhood. He said Ramirez thought the schools in Alhambra would be better for his two boys.

Herried, who lost his left leg to an infection brought on by diabetes, said he regularly rode the bus to his job in Brentwood. In the evenings, he said, Ramirez often met him at the bus stop and escorted him home, pushing his wheelchair three blocks. "He was a good person," Herried said.

Ramirez served in the Marines and was proud of his service, he said. But he did not know if Ramirez ever served in combat. "He didn't want to talk about the Marines," Herried said. "He didn't want to talk about what he did."

Vega said she had never seen Ramirez in a bad mood. "I would have never guessed that he did this," she said.

No one answered the door Friday at Kelly Hales' home in Redondo Beach. Hales was executive director of the hospital's outpatient pharmacy.

In Cypress, friends of Bustamante said the community was struggling to believe that a man they loved for his kindness and warmth had been taken.

Ron Keester, who coached a softball team on which Bustamante's daughter played, said he "was a great guy, always willing to help."

Arizmendi, who coached soccer with Bustamante, recalled that Bustamante would often meet his children at soccer practices and that each time his children saw him, "they would just go running into his arms."

"He told me not long ago, 'I'm the luckiest guy in the world,' " Arizmendi recalled. "He said, 'Look what I have. My beautiful wife. My daughter. My son. I have everything.' "

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james.wagner@latimes.com

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Times staff writers Raja Abdulrahim and Jeff Gottlieb contributed to this report.

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