Two Palm Springs police officers were fatally shot and another wounded Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance call, and the suspected gunman remains at large, police said.
Police set up a four-block perimeter in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, Chief Bryan Reyes said at a news conference. But he offered few additional details about the suspect or the investigation.
The officers went to the scene in the 2700 block of Cypress Road shortly after noon, police said. They tried to make contact with the suspect, who threatened to shoot the officers through the front door.
“They were responding to a simple family disturbance and [the gunman] elected to open fire,” an emotional Reyes told reporters during an afternoon news conference.
Reyes identified the two victims as Officer Jose “Gil” Vega, a 35-year veteran of the department who was due to retire in December, and Officer Lesley Zerebny, who is the mother of a 4-month-old. He said the third officer, who was being treated at a hospital, was doing well and was helping investigators.
The Palm Springs Police Department has turned the investigation over to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Reyes said.
“Today Palm Springs lost two of its brave officers,” Reyes said, his voice quivering. “They go out every day with their boots on the ground. They gave their all for you.”
Late Saturday, police used a remote-controlled robot to open the door to the suspect’s house. But as of 11 p.m., there were no new updates on the whereabouts of the suspect.
Frances Serrano, who lives on Cypress Road, across the street from where the shooting took place, was coming out of her garage around noon Saturday when her neighbor came bursting out of his own garage.
The man sought Serrano’s attention.
“He said, “Help. I need help. My son is in the house, and he’s crazy. He has a gun. He’s ready to shoot all the police,’ ” Serrano recalled the father saying.
The father “was very nervous,” Serrano said. “He was afraid of his son.”
Serrano, 65, said she called authorities, and as soon as she began walking back into her house, she heard gunshots, “starting with a loud — I mean really loud — ‘bang!’ ”
Law enforcement and the suspect appeared to be exchanging gunfire, she said.
“There were police everywhere,” Serrano said. “I looked out the window and saw police with rifles.” Serrano said she remembered her neighbor’s son, who she believed was in his mid-30s, as “a very nice young man — very polite.”
Juan Graciano, 67, who lives a block away from the suspect’s residence, said he saw officers trying to revive Zerebny. He said he was out in the yard about 1 p.m. when he noticed a crowd gathering at the corner of Cypress and Delgado roads.
“I saw a woman officer who had been laid down in the trunk of a police cruiser,” he said. “There were about four officers around her. I watched as they picked her up and laid her down on the street and began administering CPR. A few minutes later paramedics arrived and took her away.”
By 5:50 p.m. with police on every street corner continuing their search, Serrano said she was “really scared,” and had locked her windows and doors.
“Some are saying [the suspect] is still in the father’s house. Others say he’s on the run,” she said. “I knew there were problems before between the father and this young man. But I never imagined he would do something like this. I don’t want to believe it.
“I feel so sad for the officers,” she added. “It’s like a nightmare.”
Georgie Eden said she was outside doing yard work with her son and her husband when “all of a sudden I hear this pow, pow, pow pow.”
“At first I’m thinking, perhaps it was party poppers in the neighbor’s garden or something, and my husband’s like, ‘Uh, that’s gunfire — get in the house.’ ”
Eden then heard several more rounds of gunfire that seemed to continue for 10 to 20 minutes, she said.
“So we stayed indoors,” she said, “and it was kind of, pretty scary.”
Nothing like this has happened during the three years Eden has lived in Palm Springs, she said.
“It’s horrible to even think that officers are out there and very much at risk because of guns and people that have a lot of mental health issues,” she said. “Just being a human being, it [hits] close to home.”
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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, by Ruben Vives, Louis Sahagun, Matt Stevens, Richard Winton and Marisa Gerber