Fa­ther: Suspect in of­fi­cers’ slay­ing wanted to shoot po­lice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Robert Jablon and Christo­pher We­ber

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. >> In the min­utes be­fore three Palm Springs of­fi­cers were shot, two fa­tally, the sus­pected gun­man’s fa­ther told a neigh­bor his son was armed, “act­ing crazy” and wanted to shoot po­lice.

John Felix, 26, was ar­rested early Sun­day af­ter a lengthy stand­off and faces charges in­clud­ing two counts of mur­der on a peace of­fi­cer.

Po­lice said Felix sud­denly pulled out a gun and opened fire on the of­fi­cers who had re­sponded to a fam­ily dis­tur­bance call Satur­day af­ter­noon at the home in a quiet neigh­bor­hood of this desert re­sort city.

A neigh­bor, Frances Ser­rano, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the suspect’s pan­icked fa­ther, San­tos Felix, said his son, an ad­mit­ted gang mem­ber, had a gun.

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

Ser­rano said she went back in­side her house and within min­utes po­lice cars ar­rived and gun­fire erupted.

Palm Springs po­lice Chief Bryan Reyes iden­ti­fied the slain of­fi­cers as Jose “Gil” Gil­bert Vega and Les­ley Zerebny.

Zerebny, 27, had been with the depart­ment for about 18 months and only re­cently re­turned from ma­ter­nity leave af­ter giv­ing birth to a daugh­ter. Vega, a mar­ried fa­ther of eight, was a 35-year vet­eran who planned to re­tire in De­cem­ber. He had been work­ing over­time on his day off Satur­day.

The wounded of­fi­cer’s name was not re­leased.

Po­lice ar­rested Felix, who was taken to a hos­pi­tal for treat­ment of in­juries that did not ap­pear to be life-threat­en­ing.

Reyes in­di­cated po­lice had had pre­vi­ous deal­ings with the suspect, but de­clined to elab­o­rate.

Court records show Felix is a gang mem­ber who was pre­vi­ously sen­tenced to four years in prison in a failed mur­der plot in 2009. Doc­u­ments cited by the Desert Sun news­pa­per re­veal Felix was charged with at­tempted mur­der but pleaded down to as­sault with a firearm and ad­mit­ted his gang con­nec­tion.

Doc­u­ments also show Felix was the sub­ject of a force­ful ar­rest three years ago at the same house where Satur­day’s shoot­ings oc­curred.

River­side County SWAT of­fi­cers quickly sealed off the res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood as po­lice evac­u­ated some res­i­dents. They told oth­ers to stay in­side their homes, keep their doors locked and not to open them for any­one.

As the lock­down con­tin­ued, scores of po­lice of­fi­cers gath­ered at Palm Springs Desert Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter to of­fer a somber salute as the bod­ies of Zerebny and Vega were loaded into white hearses for trans­port to a coro­ner’s of­fice.

It had been 54 years since an on-duty uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cer was killed in Palm Springs, a city of 45,000 res­i­dents about 100 miles east of Los An­ge­les, known for its desert views, bou­tique ho­tels and golf cour­ses.

In front of po­lice headquarters, scores of lo­cal res­i­dents gath­ered to leave flow­ers, bal­loons and cards.

Vega had sub­mit­ted his pa­per­work to re­tire at the end of the year af­ter a long and dec­o­rated ca­reer, Reyes said.

“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,” the chief said.

Reyes called Zerebny a “won­der­ful, young, ded­i­cated fe­male of­fi­cer that pressed for­ward ev­ery day to make it bet­ter for ev­ery­body else.” She and her hus­band, a River­side County sher­iff’s deputy, were new par­ents to a four-month-old baby.

“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 high desert town of Lan­caster.

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

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man lights can­dles at a me­mo­rial for two slain po­lice of­fi­cers in Palm Springs, Calif., on Satur­day.

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