November 26, 2008

Loan Kim Nguyen killed

As a gunman stormed the bedroom where she had barricaded herself in a desperate bid for survival Tuesday, a young San Mateo mother passed her two small children out the window to SWAT officers.

Moments after saving their lives, 24-year-old Loan Kim Nguyen was mortally wounded as the intruder and police exchanged gunfire. When officers entered the home on Hobart Avenue, they found the man dead.

The tragedy shook the neighborhood of century-old homes near the heart of the Peninsula city.

"We are shocked by this brazen and violent act," said Deputy Police Chief Mike Callagy.

Police also said, however, that the intruder apparently had targeted the home where Nguyen lived with her husband, 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, and they had some indication the crime was "not a random act." But it was a mystery Tuesday night what had brought the still-unidentified intruder to the home.

The incident began shortly after 9:30 a.m., when the California Highway Patrol transferred a 911 call to San Mateo police. The caller said he had just received a text message from his wife, who told him a gun-wielding intruder was in their home at 29 Hobart Ave. and that she was being robbed.

Officers who responded spotted a man inside the house with a handgun beating a woman, Police Chief Susan Manheimer said. As officers approached the house, yelling at the man to drop the gun, they heard a shot.

Unable to tell if the shot was fired at the woman or at police, and reluctant to return fire for fear of harming the home's residents, officers backed off and called for a SWAT team and hostage negotiators.

Ken Antrobus, a neighbor who was watching from across the street, said several officers with guns drawn negotiated with the man.

"(They said) come to the front door, come out and no one will get hurt," Antrobus said.

The man refused to answer, Manheimer said. But at some point, Nguyen was able to make contact with police, telling them she had barricaded herself in a bedroom over the garage with her children.

"The mother indicated she was going to drop the children out a window of the house in order to save their lives," Manheimer said. Meanwhile, the gunman was trying to get into the bedroom.

"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.

The SWAT team, composed of officers from eight Peninsula agencies, quickly developed a plan. Several officers climbed onto the roof of a van, which other officers then pulled into the driveway of the home, bringing the vehicle under the barricaded mother's window.

As Nguyen began passing her children out the window, Manheimer said, the intruder fired blindly through the walls of the bedroom. One officer leaped from the roof of the van to the ground, bullets flying past him and a baby in his arms.

"It was a great sight to see the officers running back with these two young children crying and clinging to them," Manheimer said. The children were not harmed.

As one child was borne to safety, officers returned fire at the intruder and another team of police stormed the front of the house to create a distraction. Nguyen handed the second child to an officer, then crumpled to the floor of her bedroom, Manheimer said.

Police chased the intruder through the home, finding him in a back bedroom, dead of at least one gunshot wound. Nguyen was taken to Stanford Hospital, where she died.

It is not yet clear who fired the bullets that killed Nguyen or the intruder, Manheimer said, although she also said police were not shooting when Nguyen was hit.

"We don't have enough information to say at this point, and the worst thing you can do in an investigation is make assumptions," she said. "I can't say exactly which rounds hit whom."

She did say, however, that the intruder may have shot himself.

The shooting remains under investigation by police and the San Mateo County district attorney's office.

The name of the dead intruder was not released by police. A neighbor, Sharon Rottiers, said she saw officers searching a Toyota Camry parked across the street from the residence. She saw them pulling clothing, medication bottles, pliers, sheets and other items from the car, which she said looked like somebody had been living in it.

Police said they believe the car was related to the case, but did not elaborate.

The children were safe Tuesday night with their father, police said.

"We will not rest until we get to the bottom of this," Manheimer said. "In the morning we thought it was a random robbery, but we now think it was not. Signs point to that there might be some connection."

Property records show that Nguyen and her husband bought the home about a year ago, and had recently offered it for sale for the same price at which they bought it.

Neighbors said there had been several open houses recently. Photos of the listing on real estate sites show a tidy home with modern furniture and a baby's room, painted red with a wooden crib and a colorful mobile of birds flying.

Source: Sfgate.com

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