LOS ANGELES, Calif. - What began as yet another car chase on Southern California freeways turned into a saga that spanned three counties, with one of five suspects arrested within sight of the Los Angeles police chief at a charity event and other suspects leaving students and staff stranded for up to eight hours as police searched the Cal State Fullerton campus.
The five suspects were spotted fleeing after an armed robbery Wednesday at a Moreno Valley jewelry store, police said. Two of the suspects remained at large late Wednesday, with at least one who was believed to be on campus for a time. The other three were in custody.
The search at Cal State Fullerton locked down the campus' southeast edge for roughly eight hours, as SWAT officers searched the College of Business' Mihaylo Hall and other buildings.
Students were alerted via text message at about 4 p.m. and were told to stay where they were with doors locked.
The lockdown ended just before midnight, and classes were set to resume Thursday morning as scheduled, officials said.
During the lengthy lockdown, students stayed connected to family, friends and media outlets via text messages, phone calls and Twitter from classrooms and dorm rooms, some with doors barricaded.
"We've made a makeshift bathroom out of trash cans, and whatever happens here stays here. That's the rule," Robert Pachorek, a student holed up in a classroom in Langsdorf Hall, told KABC-TV in a call from his cellphone.
Police believe at least one suspect fled into Mihaylo Hall, where some occupants were evacuated.
"We saw all these cops coming through with — I think they were like AKs or something. They were pretty big guns," student Nate Chu told KABC. "And they eventually told us we had to leave the campus."
SWAT officers cleared the hall room by room. No students were injured.
A slow stream of students began leaving campus late Wednesday, telling several television news stations that police had cleared their buildings and allowed them to leave.
At least one person fired a handgun while attempting to rob the combination pawn shop and jewelry store in Moreno Valley just after 3 p.m., according to Riverside County sheriff's Cpl. Angel Ramos. One person was shot and survived, but police had no further details on his condition late Wednesday.
The five suspects fled the robbery in a grey Lexus and were stopped by police in Fullerton when the sedan rear-ended a vehicle near the school. Two people were detained soon after the crash. The other three ran off.
"They ran right at me. I decided to get out of their way. I did not know if they were armed or not," said student Shaun Kintaudi, who was on his way to take a test. "I decided it was best to run away from them and let the cops do their job."
The suspects were considered armed and dangerous, said Fullerton police spokesman Jeff Stuart.
Two student news anchors stuck in their campus television studio were posting video reports on the school newspaper's website as they got updates via text messages. They said they had been rehearsing for just such an event.
"About a week ago we were doing live shots, and now we are actually doing live shots with a tragic situation," journalism major Cara Seo said in a video.
All evening classes and activities were cancelled Wednesday. The campus is in its final week of classes before final exams.
One of the suspects who fled after the crash near campus carjacked a silver sedan and drove onto westbound state Route 91, speeding erratically through rush hour traffic until exiting onto surface streets nearly 30 miles away in Los Angeles County. The victim of the carjacking wasn't hurt, Stuart said.
The suspect crashed the car, sprinted through a lawn and hopped a fence near a housing project in Watts. He surrendered to dozens of officers on a baseball diamond at a recreation centre where Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was giving away toys to hundreds of young children.
"He picked the wrong rec centre to run into today," said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith.