A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a boy holding a pellet gun is a firearms expert, Iraq War veteran and contributor to online forums dealing with guns and police use of force, officials said Monday.
The Sheriff’s Office confirmed Sunday that Deputy Erick Gelhaus, 48, fired the shots that killed Andy Lopez,13, of Santa Rosa, who had been holding a pellet gun that resembled an assault rifle.
In his writings, Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, has been a frequent advocate of a prepared, aggressive stance in law enforcement, a profession he has described as a “calling” and likened to a “contact sport,” the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported.
In a 2008 article he wrote for S.W.A.T. Magazine about strategies for surviving an ambush in the “kill zone,” Gelhaus began by describing the “nanoseconds (that) seem like minutes as you scramble to react while simultaneously thinking about your children and spouse.”
Sheriff’s officials had previously declined to release the deputy’s name, citing threats to his safety.
Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas said the office was still dealing with those threats and would, if necessary, take measures to protect Gelhaus. He said the decision to confirm the deputy’s name was based on an awareness that it was starting to circulate publicly.
Gelhaus joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1989 and is one of its two dozen field training officers. He is also a firearms instructor and range master with special training in firearms safety and instruction.
On Tuesday, Gelhaus was with a deputy he had supervised for a month, a new hire with 11 years of experience. Just after 3:14 p.m., they drove up behind Lopez about half a mile north of the boy’s Moorland Avenue home on the southwestern outskirts of Santa Rosa.
Ten seconds later, after the deputies had reported a suspicious person to dispatchers, radioed for backup and issued orders to the boy to drop his weapon, according to Santa Rosa police, Gelhaus opened fire when he saw Lopez -- whose back was to the deputies -- begin to turn toward him, the barrel of the BB gun rising, authorities said. The deputy mistook the BB gun for an assault rifle, investigators said.
Gelhaus fired eight rounds, striking the boy seven times, investigators said. Two shots were fatal, an autopsy determined.
His partner, the trainee, did not fire his weapon, investigators said. Gelhaus and the other deputy were placed on paid administrative leave.
The FBI also is looking into the shooting.
Gelhaus’ military career spans roughly 10 years, according to Sheriff’s Office records, and includes service in the Army and National Guard, the Press-Democrat reported.
An online profile posted on LinkedIn states that Gelhaus served as a non-commissioned officer with the Army National Guard from 2004 to 2010, the newspaper wrote. While serving in Iraq, he reportedly supervised a heavy weapons squad and testified in court trials of insurgents.