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SWAT officer killed after long standoff

February 7, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A gunman killed three apparent relatives and a veteran SWAT officer and wounded another officer in the face before Los Angeles police shot him to death Thursday in a San Fernando Valley home that erupted in flames during a long standoff. The two wounded officers were rushed to Northridge Medical Center early Thursday morning.

Authorities say that when the SWAT team entered the home the suspect opened fire on the officers. There was an exchange of gunfire and that is when both officers were hit.

"The SWAT only rolls on situations that are extraordinary. We have had thousands and thousands of situations where they respond and thankfully without injury to the officers. However, in this case we were not as fortunate," said Asst. Chief Jim McDonnell, LAPD.

Randal Simmons, 51, was the first SWAT officer killed in the line of duty in the unit's 41-year-history, officials said. The married father of two was a 27 year veteran with more than 20 years on the SWAT team.

"He was highly respected not only to the Los Angeles Police Department, but throughout the Special Weapons and Tactics community of law enforcement. He was a great individual and a strong family man. He was somebody everybody should of looked up to as a model police officer," said Charlie Beck, LAPD.

Simmons partner and friend 51-year-old Officer James Veenstra, a 26 year veteran, suffered a single gunshot wound to the face that caused extensive damage to his jaw.

He was taken into surgery where doctors removed bullet fragments. He will survive his injuries, but recovery will take along time.

"This will not be the definitive care for this officer. He will need subsequent surgeries to correct and reconstruct the defects that are a direct result of the gunshot wounds to his face," said Dr. Gabriel Aslanian, Northridge Medical Center.

Veenstra's wife, Michelle, is a LAPD patrol captain. She is at his side at the hospital.

"She is a very strong individual. She has a very large family support group. She seems to be spending most of her time supporting them," said Beck.

Neighbors in Veenstra's neighborhood are shocked and upset.

"He is just a great guy. He has a big heart and they are great neighbors. I am so sorry to hear this and it is so upsetting," said Michele Roberts, Veenstra's neighbor.

There is no immediate explanation of what triggered the bloodbath in the modest Winnetka home.

Police Chief William Bratton cut his trip to Canada short to be with the families of the officers.

"The caliber of these officers is incredible. They represent the best of the best," said Bratton.

An emotional Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa revealed that both Simmons and Veenstra were assigned to protect his children last year.

"I can tell you that for me this is a particularly personal loss because both of these officers were assigned to my children last year. I knew both individuals, both Randy Simmons who was assigned to my daughter and Officer Veenstra who was assigned overall to that detail," said Villaraigosa.

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates started the SWAT unit and recruited both officers.

"They are not only great tacticians, they are not only great police officers, but they are very smart and so dedicated. Jimmy could of easily, either one of them, risen in this department and right to the very top," said Gates.

Friends of Simmons church, Glory Christian Church in Carson, say that he would bus residents from Watts and other areas to church services every Sunday. Those residents are heartbroken.

"He had unconditional love. He would not look down on you. He always had a smile. He even with my children, the incorrigible ones, would smile at them. He was the police, but he was just Randy," said Barbara Ivory, a friend.

Trust funds have been established through the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union for Officer Randal Simmons and Officer James Veenstra.

If you'd like to make a donation to the fund click here. When on the site (www.lapfcu.org) just click on the red square titled "LAPFCU Community Corner."

Contributions in their honor may also be made to: The Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation (www.lapmf.org) click here and The Los Angeles Police Foundation ( www.lapolicefoundation.org) click here.

Eyewitness News reporters Leo Stallworth and Amy Powell contributed to this report.

 

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