LONG BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) - A 77-year-old man accused of shooting at firefighters who responded to a blaze on Monday at the Long Beach, California, retirement building where he lived, killing one, may have started the conflagration in order to target them, police said.
Suspect Thomas Kim, who was arrested at the scene of the early morning fire and shooting, was booked on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
Captain Dave Rosa, a 17-year veteran of the Long Beach Fire Department, died of gunshot wounds at a hospital. A second firefighter and another resident of the high-rise apartment building were wounded.
Luna said two suspicious devices were found in Kim’s residence in the building and that an explosion was heard at the start of the conflagration. A handgun was also recovered at the scene.
Asked by a reporter if investigators suspected that Kim could have started the fire as part of a plan to target them, Luna said: “Preliminary evidence and witness statements do point us in that direction.”
Luna asked the public to come forward if they had any information about the incident.
The police chief said Kim, who was being held on $2 million bail, had a prior arrest for auto theft “many, many years ago,” but did not speculate on why the older man would have wanted to shoot at firefighters.
“This is the first time we’ve experienced anything like this,” Long Beach Fire Chief Mike Duree told reporters, adding that Rosa was a beloved member of the fire department. He said the wounded firefighter was expected to make a full recovery.
The wounded resident was listed in critical but stable condition at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach. Duree said the wounded firefighter was expected to make a full recovery.
Some 80 residents of the senior home were evacuated and were being cared for at a community center, authorities said.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney