By Debbie Arrington and Edward Ortiz
Hundreds of Saturday afternoon customers at a Sacramento shopping center witnessed a tense three-hour standoff at a Jack in the Box restaurant, which ended with a robbery suspect shot by Sacramento police sharpshooters.
Two female hostages, both restaurant employees, escaped unharmed from the eatery in the 8300 block of Folsom Boulevard in the College Greens Shopping Center.
The wounded suspect, whose name was not released, was transported by paramedics to a local hospital, where he died Saturday night.
"We tried for several hours for this to end peacefully," said Officer Doug Morse, Sacramento police spokesman, at the scene. "It's very unfortunate it had to end this way. ... It was a very tense, really frightening situation for everyone involved."
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., the parking lot outside the nearby Raley's supermarket and 99-Cent Only store was packed with cars and customers as the robbery unfolded inside the fast-food restaurant, one of several that line Folsom Boulevard.
Dan Escamilla had just sat down to lunch at El Festival taqueria behind the Jack in the Box. A bail agent from Orange County, he was visiting the area in search of a violent felony fugitive.
Still wearing her headset from the drive-through window, a female Jack in the Box employee rushed into the taqueria and said the nearby restaurant was being robbed, Escamilla said.
"The (woman) came into the restaurant yelling, 'There's a guy with a gun and he's inside the Jack in the Box right now,' " Escamilla said. "So I ran and got my gun and my (protective) vest (from the car) to see if there was something that I could do to help."
Just as he reached the back entrance to the Jack in the Box, a second woman - another restaurant employee - burst out and told him the robber had put a gun in her mouth.
"I told her to get out of there quick," Escamilla said.
The bail agent then secured the back door until police arrived about two minutes later.
Meanwhile, the gunman - described by police as a young Asian male - barricaded himself inside.
Dozens of Sacramento police officers and Sacramento County sheriff's deputies congregated at the scene, which was quickly cordoned off with hundreds of yards of yellow tape. Folsom Boulevard was closed to all traffic between Howe Avenue and Florin-Perkins Road.
Police SWAT officers and hostage negotiators responded, setting up their command post behind the Chase Bank branch, as a helicopter circled overhead.
As Sacramento police attempted to end the tense standoff peacefully, business continued in several of the center's stores and restaurants. Shoppers loaded groceries into their cars as onlookers gathered along the tape barriers to take cellphone snapshots of the officers at work.
"We thought there was an accident or something," said Courtney Fea, who was grocery shopping with her father, Thomas. "Then we saw all the police tape."
Though early reports suggested various numbers of hostages, police later determined that there had been two women inside the restaurant with the gunman. It's unknown if any customers had been inside when the incident started.
About 2:45 p.m., one of the women was released and escorted away by officers. The crowd along the yellow tape barricades grew bigger as they watched officers unload a SWAT robot to survey the front of the restaurant.
At 3:43 p.m., after positioning sharpshooters and the robot on Folsom Boulevard, police fired shots and detonated three concussion grenades. The big booms caused car alarms to go off throughout the parking lot.
Immediately after the volleys, the remaining hostage ran from the restaurant. She was met by several Sacramento police officers, who rushed her to safety behind the building.
Bee photo by Autumn Payne