Suspect Arrested In Killing Of Two Palm Springs Police Officers [Updated]
A 26-year-old man was arrested early Sunday on suspicion of fatally shooting two Palm Springs police officers and wounding a third officer nearly 12 hours before. The L.A. Times reports that John Felix, 26, a Palm Springs local who has served time for assault, was taken into custody at about 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
The officers, responding to a domestic disturbance call, reported to the scene just after 12 p.m. Saturday. A woman had made the call, saying that her adult son was causing a disturbance. The suspect refused to open the door when the officers arrived and threatened to shoot the officers. Within 10 minutes, the suspect opened fire through the door, according to KTLA. Neighbor Arnold Morales described the rapid-fire gunshots to CNN affiliate KMIR, saying, "(It was) bang-bang-bang. We must've heard at least 30 shots. It could be more."
Three officers were injured during the exchange of gunfire. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene as the suspect refused to surrender and barricaded himself in his residence, according to an official statement.
One of the slain officers was months away from retirement, while the other had just joined the force less than two years ago. Lesley Zerebny, 27, had just returned to the Palm Springs Police Department from maternity leave. She and her husband, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy, were the parents of a four-month-old baby. Zerebny had joined the department less than two years ago. "Here you have a wonderful, young, dedicated female officer that pressed forward every day to make it better for everybody else, and she gave her all," police chief Bryan Reyes said at a press conference Saturday night, according to the Desert Sun.
Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega, 63, was working overtime on Saturday. The father of eight children and 35-year veteran of the force had submitted his paperwork to retire in December, according to the Desert Sun. "This line of work is designed for 30 years to max out before you retire. So in essence you have an officer that was qualified for retirement five years ago," Reyes said of Vega, according to the Sun. "Here he is, 35 years in, still pushing a patrol car for our community to make it better — on a day he wasn't even scheduled to work."
Governor Jerry Brown has ordered flags at the state capitol to be flown at half-staff in honor of the slain officers, according to CNN.
Updated, 4:15 p.m.: Authorities said this afternoon that Felix was wearing body armor and was carrying "high capacity magazines" when he was arrested earlier this morning, according to the L.A. Times. While he was in possession of ammunition, the Desert Sun notes that he did not have a firearm.
Police also gave more details as to the nature of the standoff, saying that a SWAT team used tear gas to force Felix out the house that he had barricaded himself in, and pelted him with non-lethal rounds. They also deployed a remote-control robot to look for Felix inside the house, where he remained hidden.
Felix will be charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and is eligible for the death penalty.