Two decades later: Remembering the North Hollywood bank shootout

- On Feb. 28, 1997, John Caprarelli was a senior lead officer out of North Hollywood station. His day started normally, but quickly escalated when two robbers in a botched bank robbery, Larry Phillips, Jr., and Emil Mătăsăreanu, went to war with police.

One of the first on the scene was Caparelli, who told FOX 11, "I remember how desperate and chaotic it was. It was a feeling of helplessness trying to stop those guys."

Caprarelli, who now lives in the mountains above Frazier Park, remembers firing at Phillips.

"I fired a few rounds. I knew I hit him cause I got his attention, but that's all I got," he recalled.

Philips would commit suicide. Mătăsăreanu died in a running gun battle.

"I can still remember looking in his eyes, see him pointing the gun," Caprarelli said. "I remember the sound of those rifles."

Mătăsăreanu had 29 wounds. Philips had 9. The robbers fired more than 1,100 rounds in total. Because the robbers were using fully automatic rifles and police didn't have that kind of firepower, officers were outgunned.

In fact, police were so ill-equipped, some went to a local gun shop to buy rifles.

"...A lot of people don't know they didn't get back in time. Those were never used," Caprarelli said. "So, that was a wakeup call, and since, the department has now outfitted patrol officers with police rifles. If we had one of those in the day, they were in that bank about 7 minutes and 45 seconds, and it would have been over in 8 minutes."

Caprarelli and other officers suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Three committed suicide. Caprarelli suffered a stroke. He believes what happened in North Hollywood contributed to that and persistent nightmares.

Caprarelli says 20 years may seem like a long time, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way.

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