WHEN MY CITY EDITOR yelled out that she needed someone to help cover a shooting at the County General Hospital in East Los Angeles, I sunk low behind my computer, trying to be invisible. As a young metro reporter focusing on transportation back in 1993, I had barely typed a word about violent crime.
Forty minutes later, I lingered near one of the hospital’s side entrances, unable to spot any fellow journalists milling around. So, I popped open the door, figuring they might be inside. That’s when a tubby police officer whipped around the corner, telling me in an angry whisper that the gunman who’d already shot three doctors — one with a .38-caliber slug to the head — was holding two people hostage just around the bend. “Get down and go!” he said, his hand gripping a revolver.
I left, lucky only to have been chastised, and discovered the media scrum in an adjacent parking lot. It was now your basic hurry-up-and-wait while authorities tried to end the standoff with the gunman, a disgruntled patient who lived on Skid Row. They hauled him off in a squad car after several hours, and as I angled for a view of his face, an overly aggressive TV cameraman whacked me in the back of the head with his lens. But I still noticed the suspect resembled Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker” serial killer who had terrorized Los Angeles the previous decade.