LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A woman was sexually assaulted and another victim was stabbed during a late-night hostage-taking that lasted into the early hours on Friday at a department store near Los Angeles (LA), police said.
Officers were looking for two suspects over what initially appears to have started out as an armed robbery, but which ended when 14 victims were rescued by Special Weapons And Tactics (Swat) teams at the Nordstrom Rack store in Westchester, southwest of LA.
Police were alerted shortly after 11.00 pm Thursday (Friday, 3pm Singapore time) when a female staff member reported that two armed men had entered the store, said LA Police Department (LAPD) spokesman Andy Neiman.
Officers scrambled and they surrounded the store, before calling in Swat reinforcements, he said.
A little after 2.00 am the Swat team located 13 female staff and one male employee held in a storage room and bathroom, he said. Some 200 people were also stranded inside a cinema at the shopping center during the drama.
"As we interviewed and debriefed all of the hostages, we learned that one of the hostages was stabbed," Neiman told Fox11 television. "That hostage has been treated for a non-life-threatening wound.
"Also, sadly, one of the other hostages was sexually assaulted," he added.
The incident comes amid intense debate in the United States about gun control, revived after a gunman killed 26 people including 20 young children at a school in Newtown, Connecticut last month.