Image:  Hostage is rescued from a Chinese restaurant
Damian Dovarganes  /  AP
Paramedics and SWAT team officers carry a boy out of a Chinese restaurant after he was rescued following a standoff in El Monte, Calif., on Tuesday. The 7-year-old was shot in the thigh but is expected to survive.
updated 12/24/2008 10:56:57 AM ET 2008-12-24T15:56:57

A man shot and killed by police after a two-hour standoff near Los Angeles where he held his 7-year-old son hostage in a restaurant was a suspect wanted for the 2004 murder of his girlfriend, authorities said Wednesday.

The man killed was 38-year-old Manuel Benitez, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

Authorities had been seeking Benitez since the slaying of Stephanie Spears in Hawthorne more than four years ago. Benitez had a son with Spears, and the child had not been seen since the mother was beaten to death with a dumbbell, according to his fugitive profile on the FBI Web site. The Web site said Benitez may have been traveling with the son, Benjamin.

The FBI Web site said Benitez, who was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" earlier this year, had been a child actor who went by the name Mark Everett, one of several Benitez aliases listed in the sheriff's department statement.

The boy suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh in Tuesday's standoff but was expected to survive, said sheriff's Lt. Liam Gallagher.

Benitez was declared dead at the Chinese restaurant in an El Monte strip mall after police threw a flash-bang grenade inside then exchanged gunfire with him, Gallagher said.

Gallagher would not say who shot the boy.

Police said Benitez, who wore a camouflage jacket and had two handguns, took the boy into a back room of the restaurant where he held him hostage.

$20,000 reward
The sheriff's statement said Benitez also went by the names Mike Evers and Manuel Velasco. It said detectives are seeking the public's help in finding his mother, Elizabeth Velasco, who authorities believed he may have been traveling with.

Benitez was charged with murder and a California warrant was issued for his arrest in May 2005, the FBI Web site said. A federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was issued in March 2006. The FBI had offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

As child actor Mark Everett, Benitez had small parts in the television shows "Highway to Heaven" and "Trapper John, MD," and the movies "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and "Stand and Deliver," according to the FBI and The Internet Movie Database Web site.

El Monte police Detective Ralph Batres said the standoff began after a police officer noticed a man take a boy off the sidewalk and head to the restaurant. Benitez ignored the officer's orders to stop and barricaded himself inside, Batres said.

Police closed nearby streets and shoppers were evacuated from neighboring stores as dozens of police officers and other emergency crews surrounded the restaurant.

One employee of a nearby Mexican restaurant said Benitez had the boy in a headlock and held a gun to his head as he sought a place to hold him.

Gallagher said Benitez told police during negotiations that he was going to shoot police and harm the child. Police later found Benitez had a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver.

El Monte is a city of about 116,000 people 13 miles east of Los Angeles.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Standoff ends in violence


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