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Nordstrom Rack hostage drama plays out on police scanners, Twitter

January 11, 2013 |  4:36 pm

Nordstrom Rack

The first 911 call came at 11:08 p.m. A panicked man told an operator the barest of details: Nordstrom Rack in Westchester. Two armed men. Robbery.

Police rushed Thursday to the sprawling Promenade at Howard Hughes Center off the 405 Freeway, where they saw something curious. One man ducked in and out of the Nordstrom. A second man, accompanied by a woman, did the same – and it was clear she didn’t want to go back.

That’s when police realized: The gunmen had hostages.

But for several more hours, police were unsure of whether the gunmen had fled, how many hostages they'd taken and whether anyone was still alive. At least 200 moviegoers were stranded in a nearby theater as SWAT teams fanned out across the shopping center.

Unlike a disaster that plays out live on TV, the news media relied on two Twitter accounts that post police scanner traffic for scraps of information.

@Venice311 posted almost three minutes of edited audio on its website and along with @LAScanner tweeted the ordeal shortly after 11 p.m.

At the 2:24 mark of the three-minute clip, police report a suspect with a hostage at the Nordstrom.

“We got an additional suspect, male Black possibly six one wearing a black and white plaid shirt with a beanie with female hostages,” the officer said. “He just took them to the back.”

Minutes later, police reported a vehicle leaving the center.

“White Ford Explorer high rate of speed leaving the parking lot,” shouted a male officer over the radio. 

As the vehicle left the perimeter, a different voice commanded officers to hold back and let the trailing units follow the fleeing suspects.

“To all units in the perimeter hold your position, let the other units go in pursuit, hold your position,” he said.

Officers, however, were unable to keep track of the Ford.

“We lost sight of that vehicle, we’re going on the 405 north,” said the officer. “I need other units to try Sepulveda, we don’t know where the vehicle is now.”

A clip posted to Venice311’s server about 3:50 a.m. said police received 911 calls from the 14 employees, who were placed in a rear restroom on the third level. The suspects told two of the victims to take off their clothes.

The hostages reported a woman being pistol-whipped, another being sexually assaulted and a victim stabbed in the back of the neck, but in stable condition.

 On Friday morning, police found a car in Culver City that matched the description of the suspect vehicle.

Yellow police tape blocked cars and pedestrians from accessing the 4000 block of Globe Avenue between Washington Boulevard and Washington Place.

At least six Los Angeles police officers, one wearing white gloves, another taking photographs, walked the tree-lined residential street searching for evidence.

A black object that appeared to be a phone and a white cable that appeared to be a charger lay discarded on the sidewalk.

A white SUV was visible near a cluster or police officers and cruisers.

Gloria Cox, a nurse, said she was asleep Thursday night after a 21-hour shift and awoke to the sound of helicopters about 1 a.m.

 She looked outside and saw a group of police officers gathered in her frontyard. They asked her to stay inside, and she was trapped there until noon, Cox said.

"It was pretty wild," Cox said. "I couldn't even clean my pool or go to the bank."

Cox said she saw no sign of criminal activity outside.

Two Los Angeles detectives were still searching the area outside Cox's house about 1 p.m., but they declined to comment.


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Photo: The Nordstrom Rack store in Westchester where LAPD SWAT officers on Friday rescued 14 people who were hiding in a storage room following an armed robbery. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times