He was a father, a friend, and a devout Christian. And, to many at-risk youth whose lives were fraught with gangs and drugs, he was a mentor and a guiding light who cared.
During his 51 years, police officer Randall Simmons, a highly decorated member of the elite SWAT team, touched many lives.
Simmons, who became the first member in the SWAT team’s four decade history to die in the line of duty, was killed last Thursday during a standoff in Winnetka. Simmons took a gun shot to the neck as he and other SWAT team members stormed into the San Fernando Valley house to rescue hostages.
The incident began about 9 a.m. Wednesday when a man called 911 and said he had killed three people .
Simmons, along with SWAT team members his partner, James Veenstra, answered the call.
Police surrounded the residence in an attempt to rescue hostages inside the house at 12:30 a.m.. Eight hours later, the suspect, Geraldo Rivera, 50, shot Veenstra, hitting him in the face. Police officers returned fire. During the standoff, the suspect shot Simmons in the neck. The bullet pierced his brain stem.
Unbeknown to the officers, Garcia had already killed family members-a son, Edgar, 19, Edwin, 20, and Andy, 21.
Simmons and Veenstra were rushed to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where Simmons died just after 1 a.m. Thursday.
According to colleagues, Simmons could have retired from the police force after working 27 years for the LAPD. Twenty of those years were spent as a SWAT team member. Lieutenant Fred Booker of the LAPD recalls, “Randy was looking forward to his retirement in three years. He was waiting for that 30 year mark. After he retired, Randy wanted to work with at-risk kids. He felt that was his calling, and he wanted to do that in a bigger way.”
The son of a minister, Simmons had tried for a career as a professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys, but an injury had cut his dreams short.
Simmons joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1981, where he was assigned as a probationary officer to the LAPD’s Pacific Division. A few years later, he worked in the South Bureau’s CRASH gang squad.
Simmons also worked as an officer in the LAPD’s 77th Street Division and as a vice officer in the Southeast Divison in Watts in the 1980’s. A few years later, he was promoted to the SWAT team, where his calm negotiating style stood out in high pressure hostage situations.
Married with children and deeply religious, Simmons was known for his kindness and generosity. He would often prod his fellow officers to “go to church” and to “get right with God.”
At the time of his death, Simmons was helping his church, Glory Christian Fellowship International in Carson, build a gymnasium.
But it was his passion to help at-risk youth that friends, coworkers and members of his church as well as fellow officers and acquaintances remember the most.
Melissa Franklin, director of communications at Glory, said that Simmons was a key member of the staff ministry. “If you go to this church, you knew Randy,” nodded Franklin, who said that Simmons was responsible for children’s outreach as well as a facilitator in the men’s fellowship program.
With a mission to offer kids an alternative to the streets, Simmons started a children’s outreach ministry called Glory Kids 11 years ago. “Randy would drive one of two trucks that could convert to mobile stages, and he would visit the seven housing developments–Hacienda Heights, Wilmington Arms, Scottsdale, Imperial Courts, Avalon Gardens, Grandee, Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and some areas of Long Beach.
“He would set up in a central area and he’d have a sidewalk church,” recalls Franklin. “He would have singing, puppet shows, games and a bible based message. He would talk to the kids about Jesus, God, and self-esteem. He would tell the children that they have value and a Heavenly father who loves them.”
Officer James Hart, who was Simmons’ partner for eight years, recalled that when he and Simmons worked crime suppression patrols in the Avalon Gardens area, reaching out to the area children was never far from Simmons’ mind. “Simmons would ask, ‘James, you mind if I go check on my babies?’ It was amazing, they would see him, and all these kids would just light up and yell, ‘Randy! Randy!” He was just a beautiful personality,” said Hart.
Captain James Craig of the Southwest LAPD Division said that Simmons was a friend and an inspiration. “I was his best man in his wedding, I was the godfather to his son,” said Craig, who said that he and Simmons attended the police academy together in 1981.
Craig said that early in his career, Simmons exhibited the compassion he would become known for. “As patrol officers, many times we would stop gang members, and Randy would pull them aside and counsel them at length,” recalls Craig. “This is before he had started his street ministry.”
Craig said that Simmons, who provided training to police agencies across the nation, always exhibited the highest level of professionalism in his job. “Randy loved being a police officer and he loved working in SWAT,” Craig recalls. “I think Randy was one of the best trained SWAT officers we’ve ever had.”
Craig said that Simmons “was passionate, committed and also very humble. He had a genuine commitment to serving God and making a difference. Randy’s only agenda was to make a difference to help people,” maintained Craig. “When you look at community policing where citizens trust and believe in the police, Randy exemplified that.”
Hart recalls, “Randy loved the lord and his family, his children, he loved everybody. I remember one time we stopped off downtown in the skid row area, and Randy had a bunch of clothes in the car. He called a bunch of guys over to the police car and he would pass out clothes and shoes. When we would go and eat lunch, he would order extra food. He would call a homeless person over and he would give him a whole plate of chow mein.”
Sgt. Michael Lockett, who served as the lead officer at the Southeast LAPD division in ’94 and ’95, recalls seeing Simmons mentoring children in the housing projects. “They waited religiously for Randy and the Glory Ministry truck to appear. I said to myself, ‘Why is this guy doing this?’ Simmons said, ‘I do things with my church.’ He would show up every weekend and sometimes during the week. I was so impressed by this man doing this. He was probably one of the best human beings I ever met.”
Capt. Craig said he had talked to countless people over the past week who remembered the kind hearted police officer who cared about area youth. “Everyone I talked to is devastated over his death,” said Craig. “When you talk about the best of the best, Randy was truly the best-as a family man, husband, and a role model for African American men and families. His memory will certainly have an impact on all of us.”
The funeral for Officer Randy Simmons will be held 11 a.m. Friday, February 14 in the Faith Dome at Crenshaw Christian Center located at 7901 S. Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.
A blue ribbon trust fund has been established for Simmons, Veenstra and their families through the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union at 1-877-695-2732.