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Gunmen flipped coins to decide hostages' fate

By
CHRIS CHRYSTAL and KEN HOOVER

SACRAMENTO -- Four Southeast Asian gunmen who held 41 people hostage inside an electronics store flipped coins to decide who to shoot first before a SWAT team stormed inside with a hail of gunfire, authorities said Friday.

The gunmen killed three hostages and wounded 11 others during the nine-hour seige Thursday that ended when sheriff's sharpshooters sprang from a hiding place in the store and opened fire, killing three suspects and seriously wounding a fourth.

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The wounded suspect was hospitalized and will be charged with three counts of murder, Sheriff Glen Craig said.

Craig said the gunmen were Vietnamese-Chinese and belonged to the notorious and violent Oriental Boys gang. However, the sheriff said the attack apparently was not a 'sanctioned gang activity.'

Investigators were sorting out their identities and names were not released.

The sheriff said the gunmen went to the store to take hostages. Robbery was never a motive.

'It was an attempt to gain notoriety, attention and perhaps transportation out of the country,' Craig said.

The gunmen demanded $4 million in cash, full-body armor, a helicopter to fly them to where they could get an escape flight to Thailand, and a .45-caliber pistol, he said.

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They asked for tea brewed from '1,000-year-old ginger plants.' But their most serious demand was for bulletproof vests, the sheriff said.

Alan Story, 37, of Vacaville, a customer taken hostage who was shot in the chest, said the gunmen told those in the store they wanted to return to Vietnam 'and fight the Vietcong.'

'They said if anybody decided to run, they would kill them,' Story said from his hospital room at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

The standoff began at 1:30 p.m. Thursday when the gunmen entered The Good Guys electronics store in a south Sacramento shopping mall seven miles from the state Capitol and began shooting into the ceiling.

Wielding three 9mm semi-automatic pistols and a shotgun, they took all the customers and store employees hostage. Speaking by telephone to a sheriff's negotiator, the gunmen demanded and received a bulletproof vest that was to be exchanged for nine hostages.

'It is apparent to us now that the gunmen never negotiated in good faith. They had no consistent pattern to their demands,' Craig said.

In all, nine hostages were released, including five small children. But only three of the captives were released when the vest was delivered. Before freeing the ninth hostage, the gunmen shot him in the leg to prove their threats were serious.

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During the siege, sporadic bursts of gunfire were heard inside the store and a masked gunman could be seen through the plate glass doors tying up the hostages with plastic telephone cords.

'They got more and more agitated as time passed and their demands were not being met. They said they were going to have to start shooting people,' said David Seigler, 27, of Carmichael, a salesman at the store. He was shot in the hip and listed in good condition Friday.

A woman hostage two months pregnant who was shot suffered a miscarriage, the sheriff said.

Another woman told officers the captors flipped coins to decide who would be shot first, Craig said. The woman was selected, but was saved when deputies burst in and fired on the gunmen.

'The room was divided in two. They flipped to see if it would be the left side or the right side. They ... went through that process until they got down and said 'You're it,'' the sheriff said.

'They told the hostages they were going to shoot them in the leg, and then in the chest and then in the head,' Craig said.

First to be shot was Sean McIntyre, 25, who suffered a flesh wound in the leg. The gunmen allowed McIntyre to drag himself outside, where he limped to safety, carrying a message from his captors listing their demands. The statement was broadcast on television at the gunmen's request as they watched on TV sets inside the store.

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Next to be shot was an elderly diabetic man who had collapsed.

The gunmen said, ''It looks like he just decided he was going to be our next person shot,' and they shot him in the leg,' Craig said.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday, the gunmen sent a woman tethered on a cord out of the store to pick up a second bulletproof vest.

When she got outside, a sheriff's sniper outside the store tried to fire through the open door at a masked gunman inside.

'He had a clear shot and squeezed it off,' Craig said. 'But he did not hit the suspect.' The glass door closed and deflected the bullet, exploding into shards.

A SWAT team that crept into a rear storage room through a crawlspace in the ceiling rushed out as the sniper fired. At the same time, the gunmen shot 12 more hostages before being felled in a wild barrage of sheriff's bullets.

Craig said the SWAT team had been instructed to storm into the store if the gunmen began to shoot the hostages. Other officers watched the gunmen's actions through a wide-angled camera inserted into the wall from a fabric store next door.

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'We are satisfied they would have begun shooting people within seconds,' he said.

He said investigators were 'reasonably certain' that deputies didn't accidentally shoot any hostages.

Craig said a gunman who killed two hostages was shot to death. The lone surviving gunman, who was wearing the bulletproof vest, killed the third hostage, the sheriff said.

Sheriff's negotiators bargained with the suspects by telephone for hours, trying to arrange the hostages' release. They offered the gunmen a getaway car, but it was refused.

The sheriff gave no details about the background of the gunmen.

Vietnamese-Chinese are Chinese who lived in Vietnam until they were expelled after North Vietnam took over in 1975. Some went to refugee camps in Thailand and eventually were admitted to the United States.

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