‘He wanted to shoot police’: Father of suspect about slaying of 2 Southern Cali officers

A photograph of suspect John Felix is displayed at a news conference as members of the law enforcement community stand near a photo of slain Palm Springs Police officer Lesley Zerebny following the Saturday shooting deaths of Zerebny and Office Jose Vega in Palm Springs, California. October 9, 2016.
The father of the suspect who allegedly shot and killed two Palm Springs police officers, and wounded a third, said his son had been “acting crazy” and wanted to shoot police.

“He came over and asked for help,” said Frances Serrano, a neighbor of the alleged gunman’s father. She said he told her that his son had a gun and wanted to shoot police officers.

“My son is inside and we’re scared, he’s acting crazy,” Serrano said the father, Santos Felix, told her, according to the Associated Press. When it was suggested that they call the police, he said, “Yeah, he already knows they are coming, and he is going to shoot them.”

Four Palm Springs police officers followed up on the emergency call about a family disturbance on Saturday afternoon when the gunman, John Felix, shot at police through the closed door of his house. In that exchange two police officers were shot and killed, and a third was wounded.

Witnesses told The Desert Sun they heard between 10 and 20 gunshots from what sounded like machine guns. One witness described hearing several gunshots and then sustained gunfire that rang out for minutes.

The suspect then barricaded himself in his house and exchanged more gunfire with officers responding to the initial shooting.

“It sounded like fireworks at first,” said Juan Garciano, who lives a block from the scene. “I came out of the house and saw police start to block the roads.”

Officers in tactical gear took defensive positions behind a patrol car and a concrete wall, pointing rifles in the direction of the house. A helicopter circled over the neighborhood.

“It’s usually a really, really quiet neighborhood,” Luis Velasquez, a neighbor, told The Desert Sun. “You always hear of these things going on in Riverside and LA, New York, things like that. But you never think that it would happen here, your own neighborhood.”

More than a dozen patrol cars, three fire engines, and a SWAT truck were parked on the street, with the area cordoned off with yellow tape and neighbors led away from the scene.

After nightfall, officers pointed a spotlight at the front door of the house. Using a loudspeaker, they commanded in Spanish, “Salga con las manos arriba!” and then in English, “Come out with your hands up!”

Police set off at least two flash-bangs, but there was no gunfire. Police also sprayed the area with what appeared to be tear gas shortly after midnight, according to the Desert Sun.

Officers also used a robot to investigate the scene. It opened the front door of the house, dragged it away, went inside and then came out the back entrance, one witness said. No police officers went inside.

The standoff lasted 12 hours before Felix came out of the house, wearing soft body armor and carrying ammunition but no weapon when he was arrested.

Investigators are trying to piece together what led to the emergency call about a family disturbance that preceded the killings.

District Attorney Michael Hestrin said Felix would be charged Tuesday with first degree murder and several other felony counts. He could face the death penalty.

Court records show Felix was a gang member who was previously sentenced to four years in prison in a failed murder plot in 2009 in which he confessed to assault with a firearm. He was also arrested in 2013 for fighting with police at the same house where the shooting occurred.

“Palm Springs lost two brave officers,” local police chief Bryan Reyes said, his voice shaking with emotion at a news conference, according to The Desert Sun. “I am awake in a nightmare. It’s beyond tragic.”

The slain officers were Jose “Gil” Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny. They were the first Palm Springs police officers to die in the line of duty in five decades.

Vega, 63, was a 35-year veteran who was due to retire in December after a decorated career, and had chosen to work overtime on Saturday, Reyes said. Zerebny, 27, had given birth to a baby girl four months ago. She had been with the department for a year and a half.

The wounded officer was alert and doing well.

The shooting comes four days after a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant was shot and killed in Lancaster while responding to a burglary report, and three months after a gunman killed five officers in Dallas, followed days later by another shooting in Baton Rouge, where three offices were killed.

Nationwide, the number of police shot and killed so far this year is up more than 40 percent, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.