April 25--Easter egg hunts and peaceful family gatherings were interrupted in a Van Nuys neighborhood Sunday after a gunman fired a semi-automatic rifle at an LAPD helicopter, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing and prompting a day-long evacuation and manhunt for a second suspect.
In the end, only one suspect was taken into custody as police called off their search for a second gunman in the afternoon.
Residents along the 15700 block of Saticoy street near Densmore Avenue said they heard the first in a series of three rapid-fire gun blasts as early as 4 a.m.
"This is Easter," said resident Elizabeth Bell, 46. "There shouldn't be shooting. Everyone should be all calm and relaxed."
Police from the LAPD's West Valley division responded to the area and saw flashes of gunfire.
The suspect, whose name and age were not released, was described as a young Latino man. Witnesses said he was standing outside firing into the early morning sky at a police helicopter, striking its engine.
Police said his own family members tackled him to the ground and held him until officers could take him into custody and recover the rifle.
"We were very fortunate because if he had not been tackled, who knows what might have happened," said LAPD spokesman Detective Gus Villanueva.
Police said the helicopter was shot at just after 6 a.m. The extent of the damage was unclear, but the pilot and an observer inside managed to land safely
at nearby Van Nuys Airport.
The engine had reportedly died, and the plane made an "auto-rotation" landing the craft at a charter jet service, Clay Lacy Aviation, on the airport's east side. An auto-rotation landing means the pilot was able to steer only by using air passing through powerless blades, as the aircraft falls to earth.
Once it landed, firefighters emptied it of fuel as a precaution. Tentative plans were to put it on a trailer and tow it to the Hooper Air Station, near downtown Los Angeles, for investigation and repair.
Neither the pilot nor observer were hit and there were no other reports of injury, Villanueva said.
It was unclear if the gunman intended to shoot the helicopter, Villanueva said.
"We don't know what prompted this," he said, adding that he heard the suspect was distraught over a friend's death.
But after he was taken into custody, police continued receiving calls about shots fired and a second gunman hiding out in an apartment unit on Saticoy Street. Police evacuated that side of the neighborhood at 9 a.m.
The SWAT team arrived and fired tear gas canisters into two units, but found no one.
"The investigation into what happened to the second gunman will continue," Villanueva said.
Meanwhile, residents evacuated from homes and apartments stood outside the cordoned-off area for hours, some still in pajamas. Bell and her neighbor Eddie Avilez, 35, wandered around the neighborhood, hungry and tired as a result of the morning events.
Both said while the neighborhood is normally peaceful, they had heard a series of shots fired through the neighborhood, but the Sunday morning episode wasn't the first.
"There have been shots fired over the last three weeks," Avilez said. "If you go into the alley nearby, you'll see the walls have bullet holes."
Bell said she awoke at 3 a.m. on Sunday, and heard the shots fired at 4 a.m., but heard no police until later in the morning.
Villanueva said shooting at police helicopters has been reported across the nation, but has remained rare locally.
"To my recollection, the last one was in the last 20 years, but that was in a different county," he said.
Daily News wire services contributed to this r