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Robbery sparks epic chase, college lockdown, arrest at baseball diamond

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LOS ANGELES -- A violent pawn shop robbery on Wednesday sparked a police chase across three California counties, a carjacking, an eight-hour lockdown for thousands of college students and staff, and the arrest of three suspects, including one within sight of Los Angeles' police chief at a charity event.

Two suspects remained at large early Thursday but the lockdown at California State University, Fullerton ended at 12:10 a.m. local time (3:10 a.m. ET).

The chase began after five men wearing ski masks and armed with handguns robbed at pawn shop in Moreno Valley at about 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET), shooting an employee of the store.


The clerk was shot four times and underwent surgery at Riverside County Regional Medical Center, where he was in a critical but stable condition on Wednesday night.

Pawn shop clerk shot 4 times in robbery that sparked pursuits, campus lockdown

California Highway Patrol officers responded to a call describing the suspect vehicle and followed it to Fullerton.

At 3:47 p.m., the pursuit ended after the car exited the Orange (57) Freeway and stopped after it was involved in a minor collision in front of the university campus, Fullerton police Sgt. Jeff Stuart said at a news conference.

Nearly 10,000 students were at the university preparing for next week's finals when two men ran onto campus, where one was immediately taken into custody. The other man fled and was seen going into the school’s Mihaylo Hall, where business and economics are taught, Stuart said.

The school activated the lockdown at about 4 p.m. local time (7 p.m. ET), sending a text to students telling them to stay where they were, The Associated Press reported.

The three other men headed southbound from campus. One was taken into custody, and another carjacked a vehicle and led authorities on a high-speed chase. The driver blew through several stop signs and red lights in residential areas of Compton.

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The man abandoned the car in the Watts area of Los Angeles and ran through a crowded area before surrendering on a baseball field at Imperial Courts Recreation Center, which was hosting a toy drive held by the Los Angeles Police Department.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was among those attending the event and chased after the suspect as he headed toward the baseball diamond, away from dozens of police officers gathered at the park.

Chris Bugbee, a spokesman for Cal State Fullerton, told NBC that police had captured a total of three suspects, but two remained at large.

Stuart said SWAT team members were searching the area.

"A large number of students were able to flee the building where the suspect ran into. They've been evacuated from the campus. Those students and staff members that are still on campus are in what's called a shelter in place," Stuart said before the lockdown was lifted. "Our goal is to go around and rescue those individuals as we do our search. This is going to be an all-night operation."

He added: "It's a huge campus, so it's a very daunting task."

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A student in one of the locked-down buildings said he witnessed officers checking every classroom.

"A cop came running through and he said, 'They have guns, they have guns,'" said another witness, Shant Fermanian. "So all these people started rushing so me and my cousin, we looked up, and we just got out of there as soon we can. We had no idea what was going on."

Fermanian said he saw a man, who was later taken into custody, run around a nearby building but did not see any weapons.

Christine Accetta, locked down in McCarthy Hall, tweeted a photo about 6:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. ET) of a barricade students created inside a classroom. Four hours later, Accetta tweeted: "We have been released!"

 

Another student, Raquel Mireles, said the university had been regularly in touch with students via text message with updates on the developing situation.

"They're just trying ... to keep us safe," Mireles said, who said she was in College Park. "They're being really helpful. The cops have come through and told us to stay calm."

She said the blinds had been closed in the classroom she was in, and chairs had been placed in front of the door.

"The lights are off. We're kind of just all huddled together right now," Mireles said.

While she talked on air to NBC4, a loudspeaker announcement told her to evacuate the building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.