SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Four Asian-American gang members, seeking notoriety by holding 40 people hostage in an appliance store, flipped coins to decide which of their victims to kill moments before Sacramento County sheriff's deputies rushed in, authorities said yesterday.
But a rescue attempt by the sheriff's SWAT team faltered when a sharpshooter missed one of the gunmen, prompting the gang members to begin shooting hostages at random during the siege Thursday night.
By the time deputies charged from the back of the building and gunned down the gang members, three of the hostages were dead and 11 others wounded. Another hostage who was two months' pregnant suffered a miscarriage during the ordeal. Three of the four still-unidentified gunmen -- all believed to be in their late teens -- died in the hail of bullets.
Several of the wounded hostages criticized the sheriff's department negotiators yesterday for antagonizing the gunmen during the eight hours leading up to the final shootout.
And some law enforcement officials outside the department privately questioned the SWAT team's tactics and a delay in shooting the gunmen after the sniper missed his target.
Sacramento County Sheriff Glen Craig defended his department, saying the gang members had come to the Good Guys store prepared to die and that they were on the verge of killing their hostages when the first deputy opened fire.
"I don't know what we could have done differently," Sheriff Craig told a packed news conference.
Providing the first detailed account of the incident, Sheriff Craig said that the four gang members did not enter the store to commit a robbery but that they were seeking to bring attention to themselves and their gang, the "Oriental Boys."
During the siege, the four Vietnamese-Chinese gunmen kept changing their demands, at one point asking sheriff's deputies to fetch 1,000-year-old ginger root and make them tea. At other times, they demanded $4 million in cash, a helicopter that could hold 40 people, a .45-caliber pistol and transportation to Thailand so they could fight the Viet Cong.
But their most frequent demand was for bulletproof vests, which sheriff's negotiators attempted to use to win release of some of the hostages. Early on, the gunmen released a woman and her two children in exchange for one vest.
The only gang member to survive the fusillade of bullets was wearing that vest. The gunman, believed to be about 21, was in critical condition and had not regained consciousness, the sheriff said.
"We look at them as people who went there
with the idea of taking hostages, who wanted recognition," the sheriff said.
Alan Story, 37, of Vacaville had stopped to make a quick purchase when the four men entered, began shooting and rounded up hostages.
"They were pretty reasonable and pretty fair for quite a while, but the negotiator for the police seemed not to take them seriously," Mr. Story said at the University of California-Davis Medical Center. "They warned the police that if they tried to storm it, they would go ahead and shoot everybody first and then themselves."
In the end, two employees were killed by the gunmen. A customer who had come looking for sale merchandise also died in the gunfire.