What a horrible tragedy....
SAN MATEO, Calif. -- A gunman shot and killed 24-year-old Loan Kim Nguyen as she lifted her young children to safety through a window Tuesday morning during a failed home invasion robbery attempt. The gunman was then killed in an ensuing gun battle with responding SWAT officers, according to authorities.
San Mateo police said they received a call from a man at about 9:40 a.m. about an armed robbery underway at a home on Hobart Avenue near South El Camino Real. The caller told police his wife and children -- aged 1 and 3 -- were in the house and had barricaded themselves in a bedroom, police Deputy Chief Mike Callagy said. The man wasn't home at the time, but had received a text message from his wife about the invader, according to officers.
Officers arrived at the scene and set up a perimeter around the house. The male suspect was observed inside the residence with a handgun, according to officers. After a shot was heard fired inside the home, a Special Weapons and Tactics team was summoned. Hostage negotiators were also brought in to attempt contact with the suspect in an effort to get him to surrender, Callagy said.
SWAT officers surrounded the house and were able to get in telephone contact with Nguyen. She reported that the suspect was trying to gain entry into the bedroom where she was barricaded with her children and that she wanted to lower the children out of the bedroom window so officers could get them to safety.
At an early evening press conference to address the incident, San Mateo Police Chief Manheimer said Nguyen was struck as she was lowering her children to officers standing on a van in the driveway of the home when the suspect began firing blindly through the walls of the bedroom.
She said police returned fire as one child was safely taken away. Nguyen handed the second child to an officer before crumpling to floor of the bedroom, Manheimer said.
She was taken to Stanford Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The children were not harmed.
"The victim in this case is nothing short of a hero for saving the lives of her two small children from the crazed gunman," Manheimer said.
She said it's not clear yet who fired the bullets that killed Nguyen or the suspected intruder. But she said police were not shooting when Nguyen was hit.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said investigators will perform a ballistics comparison to try to answer that question. It is also unclear how the suspect died. Manheimer said suicide has not been ruled out.
The children were uninjured in the incident and Manheimer commended the officers "who at great risk to their own safety and also under fire" saved them.
She said one officer jumped off the top of the van holding one of the children after the suspect began shooting. She said some officers may have suffered minor injuries but nothing serious.
Police are still investigating whether the suspect knew the victim or her family. A car was towed from across the street that Manheimer say may be related.
In addition to the criminal investigation by the San Mateo Police Department, the department will conduct an internal investigation into the officers' actions. The District Attorney's Office will also investigate that aspect.
Manheimer said there were several points at which gunfire was exchanged but that the details are still unclear. Officers from eight agencies responded.
Larry Schieser, a real estate agent who works at the nearby Prudential California Realty, said he was having a normal morning at work around 9 a.m. when he saw a couple of police cars.
A steady stream of patrol cars then followed, and a SWAT team arrived.
He said he then heard numerous gunshots.
"Once the shots were fired it became very quiet in our office, surreal almost," he said. "We realized something serious was taking place."
He said he and his coworkers were told to stay inside the office while police investigated.
The home where the shooting happened is across the street from a Montessori preschool called Bright Beginnings Toddler.
Jerry Adan, who answered the phone at the school, said staff members Tuesday afternoon were focused on making sure their preschoolers were OK.