A Downey patrol officer was just pulling out of the city's police station as part of his late shift when he heard a gunshot. Spotting a Nissan leaving the civic center parking lot, he immediately radioed the station to tell them what he had heard and started chasing the car.
The watch commander walked to the parking lot to inspect. He had grim news to report back: Officer Ricardo Galvez, a Marine who was well-liked in the department and known as Ricky, had been shot to death while sitting in his BMW.
The 29-year-old wasn't wearing his uniform, and he didn't have his gun on him. He had just returned from a police dog-training session a mile away.
The patrol officer pursued the Nissan north to Montebello. When three suspects jumped out of the vehicle, the driver was arrested. Two others escaped, but they were captured nearby Thursday morning, authorities said.
Wednesday night's shooting of an on-duty cop initially sparked fears that he was the victim of an ambush, but authorities later said the attack was a botched robbery by assailants who didn't realize he was a police officer.
The two men and a 16-year-old boy taken into custody admitted to trying to rob Galvez, said Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Corina said the officer had just pulled into the parking lot, which is open to the public, when two of the suspects walked up just after 11 p.m. and shot him, giving him no opportunity to defend himself. The shooting happened at close range, with multiple shots fired.
"There was nothing indicating that he was a police officer when he was shot," Corina said. "I don't think he even really saw these guys coming up on him."
Nothing was taken from Galvez, authorities said. Detectives pieced together what happened from video recordings from cameras in the area, forensic evidence at the crime scene and statements from the suspects, he said.
Homicide detectives are not looking for any other suspects, he said. Detectives recovered a revolver they believe was used in the shooting, he said. A sheriff's spokesman said the adult suspects are 18 and 21 years old. He declined to name them, saying they are also suspects in other serious crimes and that the investigation into those offenses is ongoing.
Downey Police Chief Carl Charles described Galvez, a five-year police veteran, as a "tremendous young man who loved serving the residents of Downey."
"Words cannot express the love and respect we have for Ricky," he said. "Our department is hurting."
The chase of the Nissan ended on the 1000 block of Carob Way in Montebello, where sheriff's deputies spent Thursday morning searching a townhome.
The car's owner, Rebecca Ustrell, said her boyfriend was among those detained.
Ustrell, 27, said she had asked him to pick up some medicine for a migraine on Wednesday night.
She said she fell asleep at about 9 o'clock that night. When she woke up, authorities were swarming her neighborhood.
She went outside about 11:30 p.m., she said, and saw her Nissan sedan with its doors open and no one inside. She saw police chasing two males, one of whom she recognized. Later, she saw her boyfriend in a police car.
Ustrell said she had never seen her boyfriend with a gun.
"I know he wouldn't have shot somebody," she said.
At the police department, officers were emotional on Thursday, several hugging the department chaplain with teary eyes. The entire area around the civic center was taped off, and a Sheriff's Department command post truck sat near the crime scene.
Galvez was deployed twice with the Marines during Operation Enduring Freedom, Charles said, wasn't married and did not have children.
He loved to run and was co-captain of department's Baker to Las Vegas relay team, an annual run for law enforcement personnel.
The last time a Downey police officer was killed in the line of duty was nearly 35 years ago. Officer Wayne Richard Presley, a nine-year police veteran, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on April 10, 1981.
Throughout the day on Thursday, people left bouquets at Presley's memorial in front of the Downey Police Department. Galvez's portrait was mounted next to a statue erected in Presley's honor.
Next door at Downey City Hall, a sign read: "Due to the tragic loss of Officer Galvez, city hall and library will be closed today."
"Every day, the brave men and women of our Downey Police Department put themselves at personal risk to keep us all safe," Mayor Luis Marquez said Thursday. "We are incredibly sorrowed at the loss of Officer Galvez and our thoughts and prayers are with all who knew and loved him."
Alex Saab, Downey's mayor pro tem, said it was a "difficult time for the entire Downey community."
City personnel lined the street as a coroner's van that held Galvez's body drove away, led by a convoy of police motorcycles. Only the sounds of a news helicopter above broke the silence.
Nearby, Galvez's fellow Marine Corps veterans formed a tight circle and embraced.
"The man was full of joy. He always brought a smile," said Eleazar Aguilar, who served with Galvez in Pico Rivera.
"He was always the leader in the unit, there was no question about that. My heart goes out to his family. Every single Marine feels their pain today,"
Lloyd Vernis, 29, served with Galvez in Ramadi, Iraq. When Vernis opened a barbershop called The Pride on Firestone Boulevard, Galvez persuaded his fellow Downey police officers to patronize the business. Galvez got a haircut there about once a week, Vernis said.
"He loved the Corps. He loved the police force," Vernis said before breaking down in tears.
Galvez is survived by a mother, a brother who is a jailer at the Downey Police Department, and two younger sisters.
Galvez's family members and friends gathered Thursday at a home in South Gate. They declined to comment.
A neighbor of Galvez who didn't want to give his name said the officer was friendly, down to earth and would smile often when he spoke.
"He had a good spirit," the neighbor said. "He was upbeat and seemed very happy."
He said when they first met they got into conversations about Galvez's charcoal BMW 335.
"It caught my eye because I like beemers and I own one too," the neighbor said. "This is horrible news. He was a good-hearted man."
"If you could mold a police officer, you would mold that police officer after Ricky," said Lt. Mark McDaniel. "He was always a guy you could count on to work ... words are hard to express what we lost today."
McDaniel said Galvez started as a police aide at 18 and worked for several years before becoming an officer. Galvez became a Marine Reservist, according to McDaniel, while working for Downey police. "The family is absolutely devastated. He was murdered," he said.
Galvez had parked his car on Wednesday night in a space by the rear door of the Police Department. There were secure lots where he could have parked his vehicle, but the lot where he was gunned down has reserved spaces for city employees.
"You think you come to the police station and park your car, that you'd feel safe," McDaniel said.
In a relatively small department of 109 officers, everyone knows everyone, and bonds are cemented by the unique nature of the work, said McDaniel.
"He was polite, he was hardworking, he always said 'Yes, ma'am,' 'No, ma'am,' 'Yes, sir,' " McDaniel said. "He was someone you would want all aspiring police officers to be."
Times staff writers Veronica Rocha, Ruben Vives, Corina Knoll, Joe Mozingo, Joseph Serna, James Queally and Kate Mather contributed to this report.
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