POSTED: 01:53 p.m. HST, Jan 11, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 07:13 a.m. HST, Jan 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES » Employees were closing up at a mall department store and preparing to go home when two gunmen stormed inside and took them hostage.
The thugs stabbed one of the 14 Nordstrom Rack employees and sexually assaulted another before SWAT officers freed everyone early Friday, more than three hours after the ordeal began.
It was unclear whether the gunmen stole anything before fleeing the store located near Los Angeles International Airport. Both remained at large.
The harrowing incident began about 11 p.m. Thursday, when a man reported his girlfriend had called to say gunmen were in the store, Los Angeles police Lt. Andy Neiman said.
"She told him, 'Call 911. Two guys with guns just came into our store,'" Neiman said.
Police officers and special weapons team members swarmed the outdoor shopping center that also has restaurants and a theater. The officers saw a man leave the second-floor store, but he ran back in, Neiman said.
Moments later, another man came out with a woman, but when he saw the police he grabbed her and pushed her back inside, Neiman said.
SWAT members surrounded the location but weren't able to talk to anyone inside. They later rushed in. Officers found most of the hostages locked in a storage room and two others in a bathroom, police said.
The employee who was stabbed was treated and released at the scene, police said.
Police were checking to see if surveillance cameras captured the suspects on video. Investigators also were interviewing the 13 women and a man who were held hostage to determine the chain of events.
Tara Darrow, a Nordstrom's spokeswoman, said counseling services will be provided to employees.
"Our priority right now is to take care of our employees," she said.