Cool Head Leads to Escape in Encounter with Gunman

It was a great day to be selling cell phones, and La Cañada Flintridge resident Riley Donaldson was on his game, dealing devices to a steady stream of Black Friday customers.
Then, at around 4 p.m., during a lull in the action, a man with a gun walked into the Verizon store in the La Crescenta shopping center in the 2600 block of Foothill Boulevard.
The man said he had just robbed the nearby Rite-Aid for prescription medication before entering the shop where Donaldson and Michael Arnold were working.
Donaldson, a 20-year-old St. Francis High School graduate, spent the next few minutes talking to the gunman, eventually persuading him to let the two of them leave. (There were no customers in the store at the time.)
Five hours later, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau deputies entered and found the suspect dead.
“Didn’t quite have the ending that we wanted, but really it was out of our control,” Crescenta Valley Sheriff Capt. Bill Song said. “One gunshot wound and he took his own life, and that was it.”
The suspect was Shawn David Weissenborn, 33, of Santa Clarita, according to Coroner’s Investigator Dana Bee.
Arnold said Weissenborn looked “like a normal, everyday person” when he entered the store.
“Some guy walks in and I stand up from my little desk: ‘What can I do for you?’” Donaldson said in a phone interview Saturday. “And he pulls out a gun and says, ‘Lock the front door.’ I asked, ‘Are you going to rob us?’ and he said, ‘I’m here to kill myself, but I need hostages to keep me alive so they can harvest my organs.’”
Arnold said he thought the man with the gun was being sarcastic and that he did intend to rob the store. Donaldson said he didn’t know what to think.
“I freaked out,” Donaldson said. “At least rob me, then I can say, ‘Take it all, have a good day.’ But I didn’t know what to say.”
So, for the next five or 10 minutes — Donaldson was unsure how long it all actually took to unfold — he said whatever he could think of to get his friend and himself out of the store unharmed.
“I was trying everything I could,” Donaldson said. “Every tactic — obedient, defiant, I played the guilt card and told him, ‘I just lost a friend last week, I don’t need this on my plate right now.’”
Said Arnold: “Riley didn’t stop talking.”
When Weissenborn demanded that Donaldson use accessory stands to barricade the door, Donaldson lied and said the displays were buckled down.
And when the gunman pointed the gun at Donaldson and told him, “I’ll kill you and then kill myself,” Donaldson snapped back: “I can’t function with a gun in my face! I can’t think! You need to help me help you and we’ll figure it out.”
“Riley went loud,” Arnold said. “And the guy stood down.”
Donaldson said the suspect lowered his gun and told them he needed hostages because he didn’t want law enforcement to “snipe” him.
After more discussion about barricading the front door, Donaldson said he presented another idea.
“I said, ‘You know what? Here’s what we can do,’” Donaldson said. “’Hide behind the middle desk, bunker down, and you can hold us hostage outside. You’re protected and you can shoot us through the glass. And our families will know we’re OK.’
“He said, ‘OK, that works, but you have to lock the door before you leave.’”
“He was high,” Donaldson added. “No sane person [would] take this deal.”
When Arnold went to retrieve his key in the back of the store, Donaldson said the gunman joked with him, offering to give him the money in the cash register. Donaldson said Weissenborn also produced a pair of large white pill bottles, which he said he had stolen from Rite-Aid.
“He was like our friend, almost,” Donaldson said. “So I was like, ‘Ha, ha, yeah. Can we please go now?’
“And he said, ‘Make sure you lock the door.’
“I kept checking to make sure he was not going to shoot me in the back of the head, and right as I’m walking to the door, a guy tries to walk in. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Get [expletive] out of here, there’s a dude with a gun!’
“And then Michael and I walked out of the store, and we started walking left, and I told him, ‘Go to the right and stop those people.’ So we split directions, and after that, we were good.”
Donaldson said he immediately called 911 while Arnold dialed their store manager, and that sheriff’s deputies, already en route, arrived within a minute or two.
“I don’t even know what happened after that,” Donaldson said. “Police shuttled me away and we were at the Sheriff’s Department trying to answer questions.”
Song praised Donaldson for keeping so cool.
“You never know how you would react in a situation like that, but he was quick-thinking,” Song said. “And from what I heard, he got everyone out of there, which is a very, very important thing for us because our tactics change when we have hostages. So not having any really helped us out a lot.”
Donaldson said he appreciated the deputies’ efforts, and the pizza they fed him.
He was disappointed, however, with misinformation that circulated in media reports during and after the stand-off, including a report that the store manager fled the scene. “Our manager’s a great guy, and he wasn’t even there,” Donaldson said. “And he wouldn’t run out of the store and leave us back.”
Donaldson and Arnold said they were also troubled by accounts of the gunman.
“The guy was on drugs; he’s not a bad person,” Donaldson said. “He offered me money and wanted to be an organ donor. Sure, he had a gun to my face, but he wasn’t trying to do another shooting. People should have a little sympathy for this guy. I wish I could have talked him out of it, or had him give the gun to me. That [suicide] is heavy on me.
“I just want people to know my manager didn’t run out on me and this guy wasn’t out for blood. Of course it was scary and traumatic, but at least it was handled appropriately and we’re done with it.”
Store owner Patty Parker is grateful her employees — who had, between them, grossed the most of any of her 20 Verizon retail outlets as of 4 p.m. Friday — are safe.
“It tells you what good salespeople they are, to talk their way out of the situation,” Parker said. “I told Riley and Michael I’m so impressed with how they handed the situation. I said, ‘You guys are heroes to me. You just handled the situation perfectly.’”

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