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'Person of interest' in Hollywood publicist death kills himself

By Alan Duke, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Beverly Hills Police puts "security hold" on release of man's identity
  • Authorities will see if the gun in the suicide matches the one used to kill Chasen
  • The "person of interest" was a male in his early 40s, the coroner says

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- The Los Angeles County coroner's office decided Thursday to withhold the name of the man who committed suicide as detectives sought to question him as a "person of interest" in the murder of celebrity publicist Ronni Chasen.

The coroner's office has put the disclosure of the man's identity on a "security hold" at the request of Beverly Hills police, officials said. Authorities continue to withhold the Chasen autopsy report for the same reason.

Earlier Thursday, coroner's officials said they would release the man's name after his next of kin were notified of his death. But then the Beverly Hills police sought the security hold.

"At this point we can only describe him as a male African-American in his 40s," Los Angeles County coroner's Capt. John Kades said Thursday morning.

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Officials identified the man through a fingerprint examination, Kades said. An autopsy is expected to be completed within 24 hours to determine the exact cause of death and the kind of weapon used in his death.

The autopsy should help detectives determine whether the type of gun and casing used in the suicide match the weapon used in the Chasen murder, authorities said.

The man died in the lobby of a low-rent Hollywood apartment building as Beverly Hills detectives attempted to talk with him, said Los Angeles Police Capt. Kevin McClure.

The man was pronounced dead shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Investigators did not reveal what role they believe the man played in Chasen's killing last month, but there were indications they suspect others were involved.

The man's suicide will not end the probe into Chasen's death, Beverly Hills Police Lt. Tony Lee said Wednesday night. "It's not over," he said of the investigation.

Chasen's killing, which happened in a particularly posh residential area of Beverly Hills -- about seven miles west of the apartment building -- shocked the entertainment industry and sent fear through the community.

Detectives believe Chasen's killer fired at least four shots into her Mercedes-Benz from another vehicle as she made a turn off Sunset Boulevard onto a residential street, the police chief said last week.

Chasen was on her way home from a star-studded premiere celebration for the movie "Burlesque" in the early morning of November 16.

The Beverly Hills mayor told reporters last week that police suspected Chasen, 64, was targeted by her killers. He later said it was his personal theory.

Police did not appear to be searching any of the vehicles parked near the Harvey Apartments in Hollywood in the hours after the shooting Wednesday, although they put a bicycle into an evidence van.

Lee would not say what kind of handgun the man used to shoot himself.

A Los Angeles coroner's report leaked last week said Chasen's killer apparently used a 9 mm handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets -- ammunition designed to inflict heavy damage. The autopsy report on Chasen is on a "security hold" requested by Beverly Hills police while they investigate, the coroner's office has said.

The detectives were at the apartment building on Santa Monica Boulevard conducting a "follow-up investigation" when "the person they were looking for showed up," McClure said.

"They attempted to talk to the suspect," he said. "When they did, the suspect produced a handgun and there was a self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Eddie Burke, who rents an apartment in that building, said he saw the detectives when he walked into the manager's office to use the fax machine four hours before the shooting.

"It looked like I interrupted a conversation," Burke said. The manager asked him to return later, which he did, at 4:30 p.m.

"They were still there and she was still kind of nervous, still standoffish," Burke said. "And I literally asked her 'Is this the heat?' and smiling at her, and she responded 'Yes.'"

The shooting happened an hour later, according to police.

Resident Terry Gilpin said the apartments, available for a $600 month-to-month rent, are home to many struggling actors.

CNN's Kareen Wynter, Stan Wilson and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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