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Torrance senior facility reportedly ignored warnings about gunman

Senior living home's management was told of threats made by a resident who later killed two people and then committed suicide, victim's daughter and employees say.

November 21, 2012|By Wesley Lowery and Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times
  • Torrance police and firefighters respond to a double-murder and suicide at a senior living home on Tuesday.
Torrance police and firefighters respond to a double-murder and suicide… (Robert Casillas / The Daily…)

Family members said Charlie Vanhager felt sorry for Chuck, a man in his 80s who lived in the Torrance senior citizens' home where she spent the last five years working as a manager.

Because Chuck had no family and few friends, Vanhager made extra attempts to be nice, despite his abrasive remarks toward her and other staff members — even inviting him to her family's Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago.

But about two years ago, the man's crass comments turned threatening. Family members said Vanhager reported his violent threats to upper management and took stress-related time off due to his harassment.

"He was a ticking time bomb and yesterday he went off," Nicole Daugherty, Vanhager's daughter, said Wednesday. "Yesterday, he killed my mom."

Police said that about noon, a man with a handgun, whom employees have identified as Chuck, walked into the lobby of the Golden West Tower, a high-rise senior living facility in the 3500 block of Maricopa Street.

The assailant, whose name has not been released pending notification of his family, shot and killed Vanhager, 54, and Maria Leon, 53, before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.

Torrance police said they had received no complaints about the threats, but relatives of the victims and employees of the senior living home told The Times that the gunman had a documented history of violent outbursts against the staff and other residents.

"He's threatened to hit her, to stab her and to shoot her," said Daugherty, who said her mother frequently reported her fears to upper management. "They had so much time to protect her, and they did nothing," she said.

Alex Galindo, a maintenance supervisor at Golden West Tower, said he knew both victims. Leon was a caregiver stationed in the South Bay and not an employee of the building. Vanhager was Galindo's frequent companion on coffee runs.

He said Chuck had a reputation for being an angry, violent man who harassed tenants, but mostly targeted Vanhager and Leon. At one point, Galindo said, residents started a petition to have Chuck removed from the facility.

The man had been in several fights, including one that left a man with a broken jaw, Galindo said. In another incident, he waved a knife at the building manager and threatened to slash her car tires. He made the same threat to some of the other tenants, Galindo said.

"This had been going on for years," Galindo said. "I'm really upset because this has been an ongoing thing and the corporation knew about this man and nothing was done."

A manager at the Golden West Tower declined to comment Wednesday morning on the allegations that management was aware of previous threats.

Daugherty, who lives in Sacramento and will travel to Los Angeles later this week to settle her mother's affairs, echoed Galindo's outrage.

"They've known about this for years and did nothing," she said.

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