A Fresno County sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot and two other officers were wounded Thursday in an all-day confrontation with a barricaded arson suspect in the tiny unincorporated community of Minkler, 20 miles east of Fresno.
“This morning, I had to deliver the message that no law enforcement leader wants to deliver, and that was to the wife of a deputy sheriff, that her husband had been killed in the line of duty,” Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said at a news conference.
FOR THE RECORD:
Shootout near Fresno: Photographs in Friday’s LATExtra section with an article about the fatal shooting of a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy should have been credited to John Walker of the Fresno Bee, not the Associated Press. —
The names of the officers were not immediately released, nor was that of the alleged shooter. The Fresno Bee identified the suspect as Ricky Liles, 51, of Minkler. Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers told the Associated Press that one of the wounded officers was Javier Bejar, of the Reedley Police Department. Rogers said that he was on life support and not expected to recover.
Using a remote-control camera, officers found the man dead in his mobile home across from Minkler’s general store about 5 p.m. About an hour before, an unidentified woman and a bloody dog emerged from the home.
The standoff started about 9:40 a.m., when two deputies and an agent from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tried to serve a search warrant on the man.
They were greeted with gunfire, authorities said. One of the deputies, a homicide detective, later died at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. Another was listed in serious condition.
In a later barrage of bullets, the officer from the Reedley department was struck. He and some of his colleagues had rushed to the scene from target practice at a nearby shooting range after a call went out about the downed deputies, said Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case. He was listed in critical condition Thursday evening.
About 200 officers from a number of San Joaquin Valley police departments cordoned off a broad area around the shooting scene. Witnesses reported hearing bursts of gunfire emanating from the mobile home. About 15 to 20 officers returned fire, expending 200 to 300 rounds, authorities said.
By 5 p.m., police were hauling in high-intensity lights, preparing to investigate throughout the night.
It was a grim day for the hamlet on the road to Kings Canyon National Park.
The town -- with a population of 30, according to a highway sign -- last made headlines when its owner, the proprietor of the Minkler Cash Store, futilely listed it for sale on EBay in 2004.
Susan Dann, 48, a breakfast chef at an area bed and breakfast, had no idea at first why so many TV trucks and emergency vehicles were converging.
Without satellite TV, reception in Minkler is impossible, so Dann learned the details of the siege only when a friend in Washington, D.C., called to tell her about it.
“The whole day, I was clenched with anxiety,” said Dann, who left her house only to feed her chickens. “This is my neighborhood. I was scared.”
Benny Woods, 39, owner of the Ink and Iron piercing and tattoo studio, said he knew the suspected shooter by sight, though he seldom spoke with the taciturn man, who had a reputation for threatening behavior.
“We all shop in the same store,” Woods said. “I’ve probably seen him a hundred times over the years.”
About a mile away, Centerville Elementary School, in Sanger, was locked down during the incident. By late afternoon, all students had been picked up by their parents.
Joe Pierce picked up his 10-year-old son at the school, where children ate lunch in locked classrooms.
“He didn’t really know what was going on until I told him about it,” said Pierce, who runs Pierce’s Park, a campground about a mile from the shooting scene. Pierce said he heard the shots Thursday -- but none after late morning.
“It’s all that people have been talking about,” he said.
The search warrant was part of an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and state fire investigators.
Mims said the suspect allegedly had set fires and, over the last few days, shot at nearby residences.
To avoid any conflict of interest, the Sheriff’s Department has turned over investigation of Thursday’s shootings to Fresno police.
Marcum is a special correspondent.