By Ed Payne and Steve Almasy
(CNN) — Tense. Chaotic. Dangerous.
Three bank robbery suspects led police on an hour-long chase through Northern California on Wednesday, spraying patrol cruisers with bullets and shooting at least two of the three hostages they took.
In the end, two of suspects were killed by police and a third was wounded. One of the three hostages died, while two others were injured.
“The actions of the dangerous criminals … was beyond reckless and chaotic,” said Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones
It all started with a security guard’s call to 9-1-1. A bank robbery was underway, he told the emergency operator before the suspects tied him up.
An officer was there within minutes, but could only watch helplessly as the suspects bolted out of the Bank of the West branch with three female hostages — two employees and a customer.
“I noticed that the front (door) of the Bank of the West opened slowly,” Jose Maldonado told CNN affiliate KOVR. “Three guys had three guns and had the guns to the hostages’ heads. They were petrified. Their faces were white. They were so scared.”
The suspects stole a bank employee’s SUV and raced out of the parking lot. Officers chased the vehicle.
One hostage, a bank employee, was either thrown or jumped from the vehicle after a few blocks, police said. She had been shot and was taken to the hospital. She is expected to survive.
The chase continued as the suspects sprayed bullets, racing through neighborhoods and along Interstates. The California Highway Patrol joined the pursuit. One of their helicopters followed in the air.
It took authorities from Stockton to Lodi to Acampo and back to Stockton again.
Jones called the gunfire “relentless,” saying suspects fired on officers throughout the chase.
“They put our entire community and nearby communities at risk for a very long time,” he said. At least one of their weapons was an AK-47.
The chase ended in north Stockton shortly after a second hostage, who was also shot, either was thrown or jumped from the SUV.
Officers closed for a final showdown after shooting out the vehicle’s tires.
A firefight erupted as police approached. One of the hostages was still inside.
“It sounded like five minutes of straight gunfire,” Sam York told CNN affiliate KCRA. “It seemed like it wasn’t real.”
When gunfire ended, one of the suspects was dead. A second later died at a local hospital. The remaining hostage was found dead inside the SUV.
“It was not clear and will not be for some time when the hostage was shot or by whom,” according to Jones, who said there was evidence she may have been used as a shield.
The third suspect was wounded.
The police chief said it wasn’t the outcome they wanted.
“We obviously hoped for a peaceful resolution, but these assailants wanted no part of a peaceful resolution,” Jones said. “There was a lot on the line and officers responded appropriately.”
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.