One person was sexually assaulted and another was stabbed in the neck during a hostage situation at a Southern California shopping center that ended early Friday after Los Angeles Police Department SWAT members entered a Nordstrom Rack and escorted at least 14 people from the building.
Gunmen at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Westchester held the hostages in a storage area before the early morning operation, said LAPD spokesman Andy Neiman. The hostages were being interviewed early Friday morning to determine what happened before 11 p.m. Thursday night, when LAPD officers from the Pacific Division received a 911 call from a man who said his girlfriend saw two armed men enter the store.
The store was closed at the time an officer witnessed a man exit the store, then run back inside after he noticed the officer. Authorities said they are investigating whether the assailants might have posed as customers and remained in the store after it closed at 10 p.m.
"That heightened officer's suspicion that something wasn't right," said Neiman.
Officers then saw another man grab a woman and run back inside the store.
"He pulled her back into the store against her will," said Neiman.
At about midnight, officers had surrounded the Nordstrom Rack, which is on the second floor of the Promenade. At about 2 a.m., SWAT members found 13 women and one man -- employees at the store -- in the storage area and restroom.
They were escorted from the building.
The stabbing victim's wound is considered non-life threatening, Neiman said. The victim was treated and released at the scene.
"Tragically, the second victim was a victim of sexual assault," said Neiman.
Officers determined the gunmen were no longer in the store. They were following up on reports of sport utility vehicle seen leaving the area.
Officers and an LAPD mobile command unit were searching a Culver City neighborhood early Friday, but it was not immediately clear whether the search was connected to the hostage situation.
"A white SUV was seen leaving the scene of the crime," said Neiman. "We don't know if that's the same vehicle."
Detectives were looking at surveillance video from the shopping center and interviewing hostages Friday.
Patrons at a movie theater in the complex told NBC4 they were asked to remain in the theater during the hostage situation.
The southbound lanes of the 405 Freeway, leading to Los Angeles International Airport, were temporarily shutdown at the Howard Hughes Parkway off-ramp. By midnight, the lanes had been reopened though the exit appeared to remain cordoned off.