PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Two police officers were shot and killed and another was wounded Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance in a Palm Springs residential area, authorities say.
Dozens of police massed outside a house where a suspect appeared to be holed up. Officers took defensive positions behind a patrol car and a concrete wall.
"Today Palm Springs lost two brave officers," Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said at a news conference, his voice shaking with emotion. "I am awake in a nightmare right now."
The slain officers were identified as Lesley Zerebny and Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega.
Reyes said Vega was a 35-year veteran who was due to retire in December and had chosen to work overtime on Saturday.
Zerebny, 27, had just given birth to a baby girl four months ago. She had been with the department for a year and a half.
They were the first Palm Springs police officers to die in the line of duty since 1962.
Reyes said the wounded officer was alert and doing well.
The officers responded to a report of a domestic disturbance at 12:18 p.m. PT and were at the door of a house when the shooting began, the police chief said.
"It was a simple family disturbance and he elected to open fire," Reyes said.
Police were searching for the gunman in the area of Cypress and Del Lago roads and encouraged residents to stay indoors. Reyes said police had a multiblock perimeter closed off but could not confirm the suspect was inside the area. Multiple officers in tactical gear were taking cover behind a 4-foot wall. At 5 p.m., police were using a robot and guided it toward the house.
Several other officers stood close by an armored vehicle parked a block away.
Shortly after the shooting, residents began laying flowers outside the police station in a memorial to the officers.
Witnesses said they heard between 10 and 20 gunshots from what sounded like machine guns. Over a dozen patrol cars, three fire engines and a SWAT truck were at the scene of the incident at 2 p.m.
Palm Springs Mayor Rob Moon, while walking out of the emergency room where the officers were taken, said, "It's probably the worst day of my life."
Frances Serrano, who lives directly across the street from where the shooting took place, spoke to the father of the suspected shooter moments before the incident. The father told Serrano that his son, who has mental issues, had a gun and wanted to shoot police officers.
“He came over and asked for help,” she said.
Serrano called the police and the father walked back toward his house. Soon after, Serrano heard gunshots.
At 2:45 p.m. PT, Serrano said two officers were on her front patio kneeling on the ground with rifles pointed at the shooter's house.
Gerardo Barrera was working nearby in the quiet residential zone when he heard gun shots.
"I saw a person on the ground,” he said. “Someone kept pumping her chest but she wasn't moving."
He said police arrived right away.
"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."
Neighbor Luis Velasquez said he had been outside with his family having a yard sale when gunfire erupted.
"It’s usually a really, really quiet neighborhood," Velasquez said. "You always hear of these things going on in Riverside and L.A., New York, things like that. But you never think that it would happen here, your own neighborhood."
The police presence here is larger than any I've seen in Palm Springs, but cops on the perimeter seem calm. Armored car going in. pic.twitter.com/ouPJSuW2Zn— Brett Kelman (@TDSbrettkelman) October 8, 2016
At the scene of the breaking shooting in Palm Springs. Dozens of cops on the scene. Assault rifles, riot gear. pic.twitter.com/lRxVmP6nhu— Brett Kelman (@TDSbrettkelman) October 8, 2016