Gunman kills 4, including 2 sons and deputy, in Kern County mass shooting
A “catastrophic” mass shooting in the San Joaquin Valley city of Wasco left five people dead, including the gunman and a deputy sheriff who responded to the 911 call of a hostage situation, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Monday.
Deputies Phillip Campas and Dizander Guerrero, members of the Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team, were shot Sunday afternoon while approaching the house where the 41-year-old gunman was barricaded, authorities said. The deputies were trying “to extricate the victims inside, believing that they might still be alive,” a visibly shaken Youngblood said during a news conference.
“We believed from information we received from 911 calls, and the open line in the house, that there were people alive in there that needed to be rescued,” Youngblood said. “I believe we were correct in that assumption. That required a SWAT entry, probably the most dangerous thing we do.”
When officers finally were able to enter the home, they found no survivors, just bodies — the suspect’s 42-year-old wife and two sons, aged 17 and 24, according to local officials. The sheriff’s office had not publicly identified the suspect or victims; by Monday afternoon, their next of kin had not been notified.
But family members were no strangers to law enforcement in the area. A restraining order filed on June 3 prohibited the suspect from possessing firearms, Youngblood said.
And he had been arrested previously on domestic violence charges, “but we will not be releasing any information on them until after the suspect is publicly identified,” Lt. Joel Swanson, the sheriff’s department public information officer, said in an email.
“It looks like a domestic violence situation,” Youngblood said, adding that the shooting underscores how “serious” domestic violence is and “how a restraining order is not bulletproof. Our hearts are broken because of the loss of a star in our organization. We also have three other victims we are mourning from the city of Wasco.”
Most mass shootings in the United States have some tie to domestic violence, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Injury Epidemiology. Researchers analyzed shootings between 2014 and 2019 with four or more deaths, not including the gunman.
The study found that 59.1% of the mass shootings that occurred during that period had an element of domestic abuse, and that, in 68.2% of the mass shootings, the gunman either killed one partner or family member or had a history of domestic violence.
“Fewer victims survived the injuries sustained in a mass shooting that was associated with [domestic violence],” the researchers concluded, “highlighting the lethality of these events.”
Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia said in an interview that Sunday’s shooting — and domestic violence in general — ripple painfully through the community. He said he had “witnessed domestic violence in my own home growing up and have family members, friends and neighbors who have experienced it.”
And he said that he invited the Kern Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault to join the community at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at the sheriff’s substation in Wasco.
“I know families … are hurting,” Garcia said. “This draws up a lot of ugly memories for so many. It’s important that we provide resources now more than ever to every family impacted in our community.”
Campas and Guerrero were transported to a local hospital after being fired on. Guerrero was treated for gunshot wounds to the upper body and released from Kern Medical Center Sunday night. Campas, 35, a five-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The lengthy standoff continued after the lawmen were taken to the hospital. The gunman was armed with an AK-47 style rifle and a handgun and shot at the SWAT team from inside the house.
Then, at 6:28 p.m., when he left the house and began climbing onto the roof, he was shot by law enforcement, Youngblood said. The sheriff did not say how many times the gunman was shot or who shot him.
And he did not say if the gunman fired at officers from the rooftop. But “when he exited with an AK and with a handgun, we knew what was going to occur,” Youngblood said.
Four other people were able to escape the home, unharmed. Two other deputies were injured by shrapnel.
Campas is survived by his wife and three children, aged 6, 9 and 13, according to the Police Officers Research Assn. of California’s Facebook page.
The Monday morning news conference was deeply emotional, threaded through with pain and anger. Youngblood choked up when he talked about being with Campas’ wife and parents when they were notified of the deputy’s death.
Campas was a former Marine who served in Afghanistan in 2008, Youngblood said. He was a patrol deputy and a member of the SWAT team, a recruit training officer and part of the honor guard.
Campas “touched everybody in our organization,” Youngblood said. “Five years. Everybody knew who he was. ... He was just a star in our organization. When you talk about police officers that run toward gunfire, that’s him.”
The shooting rocketed through the sheriff’s office. Twenty-three officers have taken administrative leave since Campas’ death, and the SWAT team “is down right now,” Youngblood said.
“When the undersheriff and I were at the hospital and found out that Deputy Campas had passed, we didn’t relay that information to the SWAT team, because they still had a job to do,” Youngblood said. “We wanted to make sure that they were doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
After the incident ended, he said, the two top officials met with the SWAT team.
“And it was obvious that they were incapable at that point of responding to another SWAT call,” the sheriff said. “We contacted the Bakersfield Police Department, and they will handle any SWAT call. … We’re just not capable of doing it today.”
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