STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) - Misty Holt-Singh had just popped into the bank, leaving her 12-year-old daughter in the car, when the horror began.
An hour later, the mother of two lay dead after a bank robbery spun into a chaotic police chase and furious gunbattle in which two holdup men were also killed.
Holt-Singh was shot to death as one of the robbers who took her hostage used her as a shield against police gunfire, authorities said.
Whose bullets killed Holt-Singh is unclear, but police said the ultimate responsibility rests with the three bank robbers, who authorities said weren’t just after cash - they wanted to kill people.
“In my over two decades of law enforcement, I have never seen or experienced this type of total disregard for human life nor the intensity of the situation that our officers were faced with,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said Thursday.
“It is very rare for bank robbers to take hostages. It is very rare for them to so heavily arm themselves and prepare to kill and then to actively and continually to try to kill our police officers.”
Police and FBI agents were sorting through hundreds of bullet holes in 14 police cars, an armored vehicle, citizens’ cars, homes and businesses - the litter left behind by the drama Wednesday that began when the gunmen held up a Bank of the West branch in Stockton and took Holt-Singh and two other women hostage as they made their getaway.
It ended in a hail of gunfire after police shot out the tires of the getaway vehicle.
During the hour-long chase through this city about 80 miles east of San Francisco, two of the hostages, both bank employees, jumped or were thrown from the stolen SUV, one of them while it may have been going more than 50 mph. At least one suffered a gunshot wound. Both were expected to survive.
The only surviving suspect was identified Thursday as Jaime Ramos, 19, of Stockton, who wasn’t injured. Police said the other robbers, ages 27 and 30, were gang members, also from Stockton.
Police said that they recovered at least three handguns and an assault rifle and that the gunmen had ammunition strapped to their bodies.
“The firing never stopped,” Jones said. “They were trying to kill (the officers), no doubt.”
The police chief said 20 officers who fired their weapons were put on administrative leave pending an investigation - standard procedure after a shooting. He said he believes the officers acted appropriately.
The bank branch was locked and empty Thursday. A note in the window said the closing was temporary and due to an emergency. Another note said the branch was set to close for good on Friday and move to another location.
Somebody had placed two bundles of flowers outside the front door with a handwritten note to “Misty.” “Today you were so brave. You died in a haze of bullets, on a lovely afternoon,” the unsigned note said.
“We all will look after Paul and the kids. You will be sadly missed.”
Holt-Singh’s Facebook page became a memorial as friends, family and strangers paid tribute to the 41-year-old woman, who had close ties in the community and had been married to Paul Singh for 14 years.
At the website for the dentist’s office where she worked as a treatment coordinator, she described how she loved her family.
“I enjoy watching my kids play softball and swimming,” said her bio. “In my free time I love to coach my kids in softball, snowboarding, and traveling to different countries.”
Witness Jose Maldonado, who said he saw the robbers taking the women out of the bank, said the men had rifles slung over their shoulders and didn’t seem to care that there were police all around.
“They were not afraid. They weren’t going to take no for an answer. These poor women, they were screaming, they were so distraught, so scared,” Maldonado said.
During the holdup, the robbers also tied up a security guard. The amount taken was not disclosed. Associated Press reporters Lisa Leff, Terry Collins, Sudhin Thanawala and Daisy Nguyen contributed to this report from San Francisco and Martha Mendoza from San Jose. AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York also contributed.