A Los Angeles police SWAT team rescued 14 employees held hostage at a Nordstrom Rack store in Westchester on Friday, hours after gunmen stabbed one person and sexually assaulted another before escaping after a late-night robbery.
The crime forced the lockdown of the neighboring Rave theaters, where about 200 people attending movies were forced to spend most of the night.
"Rave cinemas keeping patrons in to watch Zero Dark Thirty and Gangster Squad," movie patron Jack Sheehan tweeted from the theaters about 2 a.m. Friday. "Nice of them but definitely ironic - cops or terrorists?"
Movie patrons had little idea what was happening at the Nordstrom Rack at The Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, adjacent to the San Diego (405) Freeway at Sepulveda Boulevard and Center Drive. As moviegoers were held in theaters, 14 workers at the clothing store were held inside the business until SWAT team members burst in to free them.
By then, the robbers had apparently fled, possibly in a white Ford Explorer that charged out of a parking lot as officers arrived. It was unclear if the men inside, the driver in a dark hooded sweatshirt and a passenger in a white T-shirt, were involved in the crime.
"White SUV! White SUV!" a police officer yelled over the radio to other officers, according to a scanner recording posted on Twitter by @Venice911. "White Ford Explorer, high rate of speed leaving the parking lot. Bottom level! Bottom level!"
A vehicle possibly involved in the crime was found abandoned on a street in Culver City, police said.
According to police, officers swarmed the shopping center at 10 p.m. Thursday when a man dialed 911 to report that his girlfriend had called him to say two gunmen had barged into the store. No customers were inside. The store was closed.
Besides the fleeing vehicle, officers saw a man exit the store, but run back inside when he saw them. A man leaving the store with a woman forced her back inside when he saw the officers, police said.
Police stationed themselves outside the building and called for a SWAT team, shutting surrounding streets and blocking anyone from coming in or out.
"Okay, so apparently something similar to the heist from Reservoir Dogs has happened across the street from work. And I'm still here," a concerned Justin Abrotsky tweeted from an adjacent office building. "Correction: With hostages and a standoff near my office, this may end up being a lot more like the plot of Die Hard. Still here. Yipes."
The SWAT team entered
Police said officers learned a woman had been sexually assaulted and a man had been stabbed during the ordeal.
Police and television news helicopters remained over the scene for hours. The Promenade remained closed throughout the day.
Hostages were taken to the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division to be interviewed.
From their home on 75th Street, Westchester residents Carol and Doug Ziegler could hear the commotion at the shopping complex overnight and see police activity from their front window. By morning, Doug Ziegler said he had walked down the street to see what happened.
"We were up all night with the helicopters, so curiosity got the better of me," he said.
During the morning rush hour, northbound Sepulveda Boulevard traffic was backed up around The Promenade, where police blocked the entrances with yellow tape. News vans were camped out nearby.
Ziegler said years ago residents in close proximity to the shopping center were worried about crime there, but not so much in recent years.
"In the early days there really was a concern because there were a lot of lowlifes hanging out down there," he said, "Somehow they got it turned around. ... I think that whole thing has been flourishing."