Five days after a dramatic police standoff captured national headlines and ended in shocking tragedy, the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s remained boarded up. Neighbors, customers and employees wearing the company’s signature tropical-print shirts gathered intermittently in the midday heat along a sidewalk memorial dedicated to Melyda Corado, the 27-year-old assistant manager who was killed here Saturday by police crossfire.
Sitting in the shade in front of the store, a security guard ran his fingers over a bullet hole, a tiny white crater in an otherwise green wall where you’d normally find plants and flowers stacked for sale. Nearby, a generator buzzed, power saws screeching as employees worked to tear down and rebuild the interior before reopening to the public.
The Los Angeles Police Department was quick to release dashboard and officer body-cam footage showing the shootout with 28-year-old suspect Gene Evin Atkins, now in custody and awaiting arraignment on dozens of charges — including those related to a family dispute in which police say Atkins shot his grandmother several times before leading cops on a wild car chase that ended when he crashed in front of the Trader Joe's. After exchanging fire with officers, he ran into the store, where he held about 40 people hostage before finally surrendering. Corado, police said, was attempting to escape the store when she was struck by an LAPD bullet.
Alice Limon, 47, cried as she walked along the memorial. “I’ve been coming since they opened. I knew Mely and all the boys and girls who worked here. And It was really sad for me to see them escaping from those windows, running like criminals when the criminal was inside,” Limon said of news footage showing hostages climbing out the store’s back windows. “It was just awful. I just cannot imagine."
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil the night before, and flowers filled plastic tubs along the store’s southern wall; even a nearby trashcan was stuffed with bouquets. Multicolored Post-It notes offered compassion and comfort to the community, or were simply addressed to “Mely.” Notes from other stores — #31 LOVES #17; LOVE from #53; LOVE FROM ENCINO #56 — were everywhere, on handwritten cards and scrawled in chalk along the sidewalk. A note typed in large font, presumably from the Corado family, thanked supporters and ended with a quote: “Life is a garden, dig it!” —Mely Corado
Like many regular customers, Larissa Martinez, 22, comes to the store twice a week. “I waited (to see the memorial) because I felt it would be too intense to come the next day. I’m so blown away. I read online there were flowers … but I drove by and was so taken aback by the mountains of flowers, the candles and all the notes,” Martinez said. “I’m so happy, it makes me so glad there’s so much positive, loving response from the community.”
Peter Hakopyan, owner of Hyperion Gelato, a few doors down from Trader Joe's, recalled Saturday's events as “like a scene out of a movie. … All of a sudden there were 15 or 16 cop cars in front of our store,” he said, describing the shootout. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
“Mely Corado was a customer of ours. She was upbeat, a wonderful person, very giving. She would come in and get gelato after work, even before work,” Hakopyan said, adding, “Her favorite flavor was tangerine.”
Hakopyan started a two-week fundraiser Tuesday after meeting with Corado’s brother, Albert, and will donate 20 percent of proceeds to the family.
LAPD Captain Art Sandoval, Northeast Division, said he and another officer had been on-site since Saturday. “(We) have just been out here providing physical patrol to make sure everyone understands that it is safe out here. This was a very tragic, unfortunate, random incident. The Trader Joe’s was not targeted, nor was the community, it just kind of fell in our lap,” Sandoval said.
“And we’re just here to get feedback from the community, to see how you’re doing, what you need. We want to be respectful obviously to the Corado family. But we just want to make sure everyone within the community is back to normal.”
As for the feedback, Sandoval said that, firsthand, it has been positive — community members saying, “We appreciate what they did and they’re here to keep us safe.” But he nodded toward a thick tension, acknowledging criticism on social media of LAPD’s use of deadly force — a debate unlikely to relent as the public parses those terse seconds captured on video.
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“There are some that walk away without talking to us, and I’m sure they have their opinions,” Sandoval said.
While he didn’t fire the bullet that killed Corado, prosecutors are charging Atkins for her murder based on a “provocative act theory of murder,” holding him responsible for a sequence of events that led to her death. Atkins’ bail was set at $18.7 million and his arraignment continued until Aug. 14. If convicted as charged, he faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison, according to the district attorney.