A 35-year-veteran of the Palm Springs, California, police force and another officer, a new mother, were shot and killed Saturday while responding to a family disturbance call.
Jose Gilbert Vega, a veteran officer working an overtime shift, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, a mother of a 4-month-old child, were killed and another officer was wounded, Police Chief Bryan Reyes said.
The wounded officer was not identified but Reyes said he was recovering from his injuries in the hospital and assisting in the investigation.
The suspect has not been captured, Reyes said, but police have surrounded a house and "they're going to treat the house as if he's still in it."
More than eight hours after police first arrived, a robot on wheels rolled past a group of reporters toward the scene. Several blocks were still on lockdown.
Officers originally responded to a residence around 12:15 p.m. after a woman called to say her adult son was causing a disturbance, Reyes said. The suspect refused to open the front door and threatened to shoot the officers, Reyes said.
"The officers, from what I understand, were at the front (door) trying to negotiate with the suspect to just comply," Reyes said. "It was a simple family disturbance and he elected to open fire on ... guardians of this city."
A veteran and a young mother
Vega, a 63-year-old father of eight children, had submitted paperwork to retire in December and was working an overtime shift on Saturday, Reyes said.
"Here he is, 35 years, pushing a patrol car to make this community better," said a visibly emotional Reyes. "On a day he wasn't even designed to work!"
Zerebny, 27, was the mother of a 4-month-old daughter and had recently returned to duty from maternity leave, Reyes said.
She had worked about a year and a half with the department and was married to a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff's Office.
The public responded by leaving flowers in front of the city's police station.
"Today Palm Springs lost two brave officers," Reyes said, tearing up slightly. "They go out every day and put their boots on the ground for everybody in this community. They gave it all for you."
It is the latest in the series of shootings that have claimed the lives of law enforcement across the U.S.
A vigil was held in Lancaster Saturday night for Sgt. Steve Owen, a popular force veteran who was killed three days ago while responding to a burglary call.
On Friday, a man engaged in a standoff with Sheriff's deputies in a Norwalk Target parking lot before shooting himself in the head. And on Thursday in Missouri, police officer Blake Snyder was shot dead while responding to a disturbance call, according to KTLA sister station KTVI in St. Louis.
Three officers were killed and three wounded by a gunman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 17. About a week earlier, a sniper killed five officers and wounded seven in Dallas, Texas.
Officers from Palm Springs and nearby law enforcement agencies converged on the neighborhood and surrounded a house where the shooter may have holed up, Reyes said.
A four-block perimeter has been set up and people in the neighborhood have been told to stay inside, Reyes said.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Office has taken over the investigation. Deputy Armando Munoz, a spokesman for the agency, said investigators are trying to contact the suspect but they're not certain he's inside the building.
At a news conference, Reyes asked the public not to use social media to live-stream movements of officers who surrounded the house.
"Understand we are looking for a cop murderer," he said. "Do not do that for (the officers') own safety."
Georgie Eden told the Los Angeles Times she was outside her Palm Springs home with her husband doing yard work when she heard a sound that she later learned was a volley of gunshots.
Her husband said they needed to get in the house, Eden said. The shooting went on for another 10 to 15 minutes, she told the Times.
Later Saturday night. Palm Springs police officers started a procession for both officers that led from the Desert Regional Medical Center to the Riverside County Sheriff Coroner's Office in Indio, California.
Onlookers gathered at the Interstate 10 overpass as squad cars with flashing lights passed underneath them.