9, October 2016
Two police officers have been killed and another one injured in an exchange of gunfire in Palm Springs, California, authorities say.
Officers Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, were fatally shot on Saturday while responding to a call about a domestic disturbance.
Vega, a 35-year veteran and father of eight, was due to retire in December, and Zerebny was the mother of a 4-month-old.
Another officer, whose identity was not known, was injured and hospitalized in stabilized condition. The incident began after the officers arrived at the scene upon a call by a woman who complained about her adult son, the suspected gunman.
The father of the suspect had told a neighbor that his son had mental issues and wanted to shoot the officers. “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,’” said Frances Serrano, who lives directly across from the place where the shooting happened.
The father “was very nervous,” Serrano said. “He was afraid of his son.” Chief Bryan Reyes said at a press conference that the officers tried to talk to the suspect first before the shooting took place. “The male refused to open the door and threatened to shoot the officers through the closed doors,” Reyes said.
Almost 10 minutes after they first responded, the two officers called for emergency reinforcement, saying that shots had been fired.
“It was a simple family disturbance and (the gunman) elected to open fire,” Reyes said.
Lee Weigel, the city’s former police chief and a onetime city councilman, said, “This is the worst incident in the history of Palm Springs in terms of officer shootings.”
It was not clear whether the gunman was still inside the house or had escaped, police said, noting that the area was still an active scene and under investigation.
The incident was the latest in a string of fatal shootings of law enforcement officers across the country amid an outcry about the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police.