Friday 9 December 2016

Man kills two police officers - one a mum of a newborn baby - at scene of 'simple family disturbance'

Robert Jablon and John Rogers

Published 09/10/2016 | 09:25

Scene of the crime. Inset: Lesley Zerebny (left) and Jose
Scene of the crime. Inset: Lesley Zerebny (left) and Jose "Gil" Gilbert Vega (right)
Members of the Palm Springs Fire Department salute as the cortege passes, led by the bodies of two officers who were shot by a suspect earlier in the day in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
A citizen lights candles at a memorial for two slain police officers in Palm Springs, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Police Chief Bryan Reyes says three officers in Palm Springs, Calif., were trying to resolve a family dispute Saturday when a man fatally shot two of them and wounded the third. (AP Photo/Robert Jablon)
A hearse carries the body of one of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers in a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Members of the Palm Springs Fire Department salute as the cortege passes, led by the bodies of two officers who were shot by a suspect earlier in the day in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Palm Springs Police officers salute as the bodies of two officers who were shot by a suspect earlier in the day in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Hearses carry the bodies of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers in a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Family and friends of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers board a bus to join a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Flowers and candles pay respect to the fallen officers in front of the Palm Springs Police station on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Two Palm Springs police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were killed Saturday when a man they had been speaking with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief said. A third officer was wounded and remained hospitalized. The shooter was not immediately identified. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pev±a)
Palm Springs Police Officers carry the body of a fellow officer from Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs to a hearse bound for the coroner's office in Indio, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Two Palm Springs police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were killed Saturday when a man they had been speaking with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief said. A third officer was wounded and remained hospitalized. The shooter was not immediately identified. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pev±a)
Armed police officers are shown during a standoff where three officers were shot by a suspect in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
A Palm Springs police officer returns to his car during a standoff where three officers were shot by a suspect in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Police officers from various agencies are shown at their command center during a standoff where three officers were shot by a suspect in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Police officers are shown near their armored vehicles during a standoff where three officers were shot by a suspect in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Two Palm Springs, Calif., police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were shot to death Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, when a man they had been speaking calmly with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief told reporters. (Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun via AP)
Riverside Country Sheriffs Deputies walk along a street in Palm Springs, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Palm Springs police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were shot to death Saturday when a man they had been speaking calmly with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief told reporters. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pev±a)
Riverside Country Sheriffs Deputies stand near the scene of a shooting in Palm Springs, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Palm Springs police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were shot to death Saturday when a man they had been speaking calmly with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief told reporters. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pev±a)
A California Highway Patrolman holding a firearm, talks with a Riverside Country Sheriffs Deputy as they search for a suspect in Palm Springs, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Palm Springs police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were shot to death Saturday when a man they had been speaking calmly with suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them, the city's police chief told reporters. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pev±a)
In this photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Jose "Gil" Gilbert Vega, a 35 year veteran who was killed in the line of duty Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Vega, the father of eight, planned to retire in December. (Palm Springs Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was killed in the line of duty Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. She was married with a four-month-old daughter. (Palm Springs Police Department via AP)

Two US police officers trying to resolve a family dispute were killed when a man they had been speaking to suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire on them.

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A third officer was wounded and remains in hospital following the incident in Palm Springs, California. The gunman was not immediately identified.

SWAT officers quickly surrounded the house where the shooting took place, and authorities said on late Saturday night that the gunman might still be inside.

"It was a simple family disturbance and he elected to open fire on a few of the guardians of the city," said police chief Bryan Reyes.

The chief, near tears, identified the killed officers as Jose "Gil" Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny.

Ms Zerebny, 27, had been with the department for about 18 months and only recently returned from maternity leave. She was the mother of a four-month-old daughter.

In this undated photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was killed in the line of duty Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. She was married with a four-month-old daughter. (Palm Springs Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was killed in the line of duty Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. She was married with a four-month-old daughter. (Palm Springs Police Department via AP)

Mr Vega, a father of eight, was a 35-year veteran who planned to retire in December. He had been working overtime on his day off on Saturday.

Mr Reyes said the three were standing near the front door speaking with the man, "trying to negotiate with the suspect", when he suddenly shot them.

In this photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Jose
In this photo released by the Palm Springs Police Department shows slain officer Jose "Gil" Gilbert Vega, a 35 year veteran who was killed in the line of duty Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Vega, the father of eight, planned to retire in December. (Palm Springs Police Department via AP)

Riverside County SWAT officers quickly sealed off the normally quiet residential neighbourhood in the desert resort town as police evacuated some residents. They told others to stay inside their homes, keep their doors locked and not to open them for anyone until further notice.

Mr Reyes also asked the media and others not to stream live video of officers' movements on social media, adding it could put them in danger.

"Understand that we're actively looking for a cop murderer," he said.

A neighbour, Frances Serrano, said she called authorities after the father of the shooting suspect came to her house across the street and told her his son was "acting crazy".

Family and friends of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers board a bus to join a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Family and friends of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers board a bus to join a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich

"He said his wife left because she was so scared of him," Ms Serrano said, adding the father warned her that his son had threatened to shoot police if they arrived.

She had gone back inside her home before officers arrived, Ms Serrano said, and a few minutes after they got there she heard gunfire. Moments later officers were knocking on her door, warning her to stay inside.

Hearses carry the bodies of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers in a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich
Hearses carry the bodies of two slain Palm Springs Police Department officers in a procession to the county coroner in Palm Springs, California, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich

Ms Serrano said the man police are looking for had been in jail at one time and had to wear a monitor on his ankle when he was first released. But she added that he had always been friendly and polite to her and her family.

"We never had any problems with him," she said.

Although Mr Reyes did not identify the shooting suspect, he indicated police had had previous dealings with him. He declined to elaborate, adding that Riverside County sheriff's deputies were now in charge of the investigation.

As the shooting scene remained locked down late into the evening, scores of police officers, several fighting back tears, gathered at Palm Springs Desert Regional Medical Centre to offer a salute as the bodies of Ms Zerebny and Mr Vega were placed into white hearses for transport to a coroner's office.

Meanwhile, in front of police headquarters, scores of local residents gathered to leave flowers and cards.

A citizen lights candles at a memorial for two slain police officers in Palm Springs, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Police Chief Bryan Reyes says three officers in Palm Springs, Calif., were trying to resolve a family dispute Saturday when a man fatally shot two of them and wounded the third. (AP Photo/Robert Jablon)
A citizen lights candles at a memorial for two slain police officers in Palm Springs, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Police Chief Bryan Reyes says three officers in Palm Springs, Calif., were trying to resolve a family dispute Saturday when a man fatally shot two of them and wounded the third. (AP Photo/Robert Jablon)

"I don't even remember anything so vicious and cruel," said Palm Springs resident Heidi Thompson. "These officers are responding to a domestic call for somebody in need that they don't even know. They put their life on the line for us, the community. And they get gunned down? I don't understand it."

The shooting occurred just three days after a popular Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant was shot and killed in the desert town of Lancaster.

Sgt Steve Owen was answering a burglary call when sheriff's officials said he was shot by a man who then stood over him and shot him four more times.

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