LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Two hostages from last summer’s standoff at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s said in interviews airing on CBS Saturday night they thought they were in a mass shooting.
“A hundred percent, I thought it was a mass shooting,” Arta Gjonbalaj said. “We’re all going to die.”
Cory Page said he was “sort of like rerunning every single previous mass shooting in my head over and over again because that’s what I thought was happening.”
“48 Hours: Live to Tell: Standoff at Trader Joe’s” airs at 10 p.m. on CBS and features interviews with some of the approximately 30 hostages held inside the store on July 21.
They shared stories of the minute-by-minute actions they took to survive, how one hostage knew how to talk with alleged gunman Gene Evin Atkins and how their lives have unfolded since.
“Live to Tell” is a short-run series from the producers of “48 Hours” delivering first-person accounts of people who refuse to give up when facing possible death.
KCAL9 employee Lynne Westafer recalled how on earlier in the day, “I was just doing my usual Saturday thing. I went to my yoga class in the morning, ran a couple of errands.”
Gjonbalaj said she was staying at a friend’s residence and told her “I am going to go get groceries for us for the week. I love grocery shopping. It’s like my hobby.”
MaryLinda Moss recalls “having an afternoon together” with her daughter.
“It was mid-afternoon when we got to the Trader Joe’s,” Moss said. “My daughter didn’t have her shoes on, so I said, `I’m going to go in right now and you can follow me in.”
Westafer said she was in the cheese section “when I heard this loud screech” of the car driven by Atkins crashing into a light pole in front of the store at the end of a police chase in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue.
“I looked at the other people who were around me and we were like ‘What was that?”‘ Westafer said. “Then we heard gunfire – boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Someone started shouting, ‘Get down, get down, get down.”‘
After the crash, Atkins exchanged gunfire with two pursuing officers while fleeing into the store, according to witness accounts shared by Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore the day of the standoff.
Moore said one of the eight shots fired by the officers struck Atkins in the left arm, but he continued running inside.
“When I threw myself to the ground, I was calling my daughter at the same time,” Moss said. “I said, ‘Stay in the car. Get down, hide in the bottom of the car, there’s a shooter.”‘
The gunshots then got louder, Moss said, and somebody yelled “The gunman is in the store.”
Several employees and customers were able to escape from the store, while others were released by Atkins at various times before he surrendered, according to Moore.
Another shot fired by the officers struck Melyda Maricela Corado, an assistant manager of the store, traveling through her arm and into her body.
Corado managed to stumble back inside the store after being shot, collapsing behind the manager’s station. She was carried out of the business by others in the store, but paramedics were unable to save her.
In the hours leading up to the standoff, Atkins allegedly shot his 76-year-old grandmother and his girlfriend in South Los Angeles.
Atkins is accused of kidnapping the teen and forcing her into his grandmother’s car.
Atkins has been charged with 51 counts, including murder, attempted murder and false imprisonment of a hostage.
The murder charge stems from Corado’s death. Moore confirmed last year that the bullet that killed Corado was fired by a police officer, not Atkins, who surrendered to SWAT officers after about three hours of negotiations.
Though he did not shoot Corado, Atkins was charged with her killing under the theory that he set off the chain of events that led to the 27-year-old woman’s death.
A hearing is scheduled Feb. 21 to set a preliminary hearing date. Atkins – who has remained jailed since his arrest that day – is being held in lieu of $15.1 million bail.
Relatives of Corado filed a lawsuit Nov. 29 against the city of Los Angeles and two LAPD officers, saying they were still seeking answers about the shooting that the city and police department have refused to provide.
Attorney John C. Taylor, representing Corado’s father and brother, called the fatal shooting an “out-of-policy” shooting in which no tactical plan was established.
Taylor said Trader Joe’s had no liability in the shooting and that the store “was as much a victim as Mely Corado.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)