On a Sunday afternoon in March 2008, Kirk Knight donned a cheap looking silver gray suit, plopped a cheap silver wig atop his scalp, and headed out to the Mission Viejo Mall. Knight, 27, was dressed to kill, replete with a chrome semi-autoloader in tow and robbery in mind.
His game plan could hardly have been considered a novel one. During the preceding weeks, the unemployed man had conducted a series of successful robberies up and down Orange and San Diego counties. Knight's prior criminal history — one conviction in 2005 for DUI, another two years later for possession of burglary tools — had been sufficiently spotty to allow him to operate below law enforcement's radar.
This day, all that would change.
Lights and Sirens
Dep. Richard Olszynski of the Orange County Sheriffs Department was wrapping up a fender bender in the parking lot of the Kaleidoscope Entertainment Center across the street from the Mission Viejo Mall when he heard the call go out: "A robbery in progress."
At first, Olszynski wasn't sure he'd heard correctly-the address given was located directly across the street from his current location. But Olszynski was also familiar enough with the mall's businesses to know even before he double-checked his mobile digital that the location given was correct. The Fredric H. Rubel Jewelry Store was located on the upstairs level next to a Nordstrom store.
Minutes before, Dep. Gary Lewellyn had rolled by to assist Olszynski on a collision investigation. Olszynski now called to him through their open car windows.
"Did you hear that call?" Olszynski asked. "Let's go!"
Lights and sirens on their cars activated, the two deputies responded in tandem.
Inside the mall, a group of people had congregated outside the jewelry store to watch a drama unfold before them. Two female employees had been ushered to the back and Knight was turning his attentions to the jewelry display cases. Moving quickly, Knight smashed row after row of display glass before snatching up watches and gems and stuffing them into a briefcase.
Subtlety was not one of Knight's strong suits, and numerous calls were made to OCSD dispatch to report the robbery in progress. If Knight had gambled that any prospective witnesses would surely have enough wits about them to give him a wide berth as he went about his business inside the store, he'd bet wrong.
Knight looked up from his smash and grab to see a throng gathered beyond the store's windows. He angrily flashed his semi-automatic at them. It had the desired effect-shoppers and employees scattered and screamed.
Meanwhile, updates were being relayed to responding units as quickly as possible. Olszynski and Lewellyn copied that a single suspect was involved and that possible hostages had been taken. Then came another report: A mall security guard had taken gunfire from the suspect. Things were rapidly escalating.
Parking on the lower level within feet of one another, the two deputies took positions facing a stairwell that accessed the upper level of the parking structure just outside of Nordstrom. As they did, a female motorist pulled abreast of Dep. Olszynski.
"Do you have a description of the suspect?" Olszynski asked the women.
"He's a white male with what looks to be a bad wig and silver shoes."
No sooner had the woman spoken than the deputies heard screaming coming from the catwalk just above them. Looking up, they saw a man whose description matched that given by the woman. The man was sprinting full bore across the catwalk. Olszynski grabbed his Remington 870 pump-action shotgun from its rooftop mount and darted for the stairway in the middle of the parking structure, with Lewellyn hot on his heels.