Stockton, California -
A gang of US bank robbers who took three women hostage during their getaway attempt and waged a deadly, high-speed gun battle with police were heavily armed, had ammunition magazines taped or strapped to their bodies and intended to kill, police said on Thursday.
Two of the robbers were killed on Wednesday along with a hostage who police said was used by the only surviving suspect, 19-year-old Jaime Ramos, as a shield. Prosecutors anticipate charging Ramos with murder and special circumstances including kidnapping, robbery and burglary that could make him eligible for the death penalty.
“In my over two decades of law enforcement I have never seen or experienced this type of total disregard for human life,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said.
During the hour-long chase, two of the hostages jumped or were thrown from the stolen SUV. At least one had a gunshot wound. Both were expected to survive.
The drama began when the men held up a Bank of the West branch and took two bank employees and a customer hostage. It ended in a hail of gunfire after police shot out the tires of the getaway vehicle.
It was not clear whether the hostage who died - the customer - was shot by police or by the robbers.
Police said the other robbers, ages 27 and 30, were gang members. Police said that they recovered at least three handguns and an assault rifle.
Fourteen police cars and many homes along the chase route were peppered with bullets, Jones said.
Witnesses said the shootout that brought the episode to a close looked like a war.
“It sounded like five minutes of straight gunfire,” Sam York told KCRA-TV.
When it was all over, the last hostage was found dead in the SUV along with one of the gunmen, police said. A second gunmen died later at a hospital.
Police did not say how much was taken in the bank robbery. - Sapa-AP