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Yuba City Big 5 gunman in custody; hostages unharmed
Police have identified a suspected gunman who held two Big 5 Sporting Goods employees hostage for nearly four hours Sunday in the Yuba City store.
Juan Carlos Alvarez, 29, formerly of Modesto, is believed to have been living in Yuba City for the last few months.
Alvarez is suspected of having kept an 18-year-old female cashier and 20-year-old male clerk inside the store at gunpoint after what police say was a "botched robbery."
The hostages were released uninjured at about 3 p.m., shortly before the suspect was taken into custody. Click here to view slideshow.
"In spite of their young age, they did a great job under horrible circumstances," said Yuba City police spokeswoman Shawna Pavey of the two store workers.
After firing one shot from a small-caliber handgun, Alvarez allegedly dragged the female employee through the store at gunpoint.
Wendy Boatright and Ken Schoech of Marysville said they had been shopping together in the store when the incident began.
Schoech, 50, said was on his way out the door to retrieve his wallet from his car when he heard a shot fired close by.
"I heard the 'ting, ting, ting' (of a spent shell casing) rolling across the floor and looked over at the rifle area (in the store). I thought, 'They keep the guns unloaded in here, right?'"
Boatright, 50, said she saw the gunman stride into the store and stop near the cash registers, where he fired his handgun into the air, demanded entry to the store's office, and ordered occupants of the store to the back.
He panned around the store with his weapon, Boatright said.
"He pointed it at me but he wasn't making eye contact. He looked nervous," she said. "The lady next to me took off running."
The few other customers and employees in the store fled as well during the first moments of the standoff.
"He had that girl by the throat," Boatright said of the cashier. "She's just a young kid."
Boatright fought back tears as she moved to evacuate a nearby restaurant parking lot at the insistence of police.
The frightened witness said she had stood frozen, with the shoes her roommate had intended to buy, still in her hands, until the gunman began to look for the office.
"I started to panic," she said. "Then I dropped the shoes and I ran screaming out of there."
Jonathan Cobos, 22, said he had been dining a few doors down at Taqueria Valley when three people, including Boatright, came in screaming.
"They said, 'There's a guy with a gun at Big 5. Call 911,'" Cobos said. "I tried to calm the lady down. She thought her friend was trapped inside."
Many of the customers and staff did not speak English, Cobos said. He translated Boatright's announcement to them.
"Everybody panicked. We stayed inside. It was safer to stay than walk out to someone with a gun," he said.
According to police, the manager of the sporting goods store had been in her office when she heard the single gunshot. She hid under her desk and dialed 911.
The gunman came to the office and demanded the store keys, including those to firearms and ammunition cases, which she gave him, according to Pavey.
The manager then was ordered out of the store. On her way out, she did a head count, the police spokeswoman said.
Pavey said it was unclear why the suspect stayed in the store for so long. He made no demands, she said.
Police were interviewing a couple dozen witnesses at the scene.
Boatright stayed near the scene with about 25 other store and restaurant customers who gathered behind Two Bits Cafe because police determined it was unsafe to return to their vehicles.
They sat in the shade and comforted hot, crying children for two hours, while police widened the crime scene perimeter.
At about 1:40 p.m., police ordered those stranded by the situation to leave the area on foot and go to the shopping mall across Colusa Avenue.
"The sooner we get people out of here, the sooner we can do what we need to do," shouted Officer Megan Lybarger.
Police struggled throughout the incident with crowds that had gathered to witness and record what they saw with cellphones and other electronic devices. Dozens of cars streamed into strip malls surrounding the shopping complex with passengers hanging out of windows with cameras, and crowds lined up around stores on Colusa Avenue.
Pavey herself struggled to get to the crime scene, she said, because of the traffic entering strip mall parking lots to view the scene.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack. Reporter Rob Parsons and news assistant Melisa Recendez contributed to this report.