A Sacramento police officer responding to a domestic violence call was killed Wednesday night after being ambushed by a gunman who fired repeatedly at officers from inside a house. The man, who was armed with a rifle, surrendered eight hours later.
News of Officer Tara O’Sullivan’s death — the first officer killed in the line of duty in Sacramento in 20 years — sent the region into mourning.
“She gave her young life while protecting our community,” Deputy Chief Dave Peletta said during a news conference early Thursday. “We are devastated tonight. There are no words to convey the depth of sadness we feel or how heartbroken we are for the family of our young, brave officer.”
O’Sullivan, 26, was among several officers who responded to a house in the 200 block of Redwood Avenue at 5:40 p.m. to stand watch as a woman gathered her belongings and left the home.
Officers first encountered the woman that day shortly before noon when they were summoned to a disturbance between her and a man, according to Sacramento police.
O’Sullivan had been at the house for 30 minutes when she was gunned down.
The gunman continued firing — preventing others to come to her aid — as O’Sullivan lay wounded in the yard of the home. Eventually, authorities drove an armored vehicle into the area to rescue her.
It took more than 45 minutes after she had been shot to get O’Sullivan to the hospital. She died at UC Davis Medical Center, according to police.
It is with a broken heart that we have to share with all of you that earlier today we lost one of our own. While on a call for service in North Sacramento, Officer Tara O’Sullivan was shot and killed. She gave her young life while protecting our community pic.twitter.com/MXr7C4M5qJ— Sacramento Police (@SacPolice) June 20, 2019
The gunman, identified by police as Adel Sambrano Ramos, fired his rifle on and off for hours before police persuaded him to surrender shortly before 2 a.m., police said. The woman leaving the home wasn’t hurt, and the relationship between her and the gunman wasn’t clear.
“Officer O’Sullivan represented the best of what we hope to be as human beings in her selfless service to the community and readiness to help those in need,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. “She knew the dangers of the job, yet chose to dedicate herself at such a young age to those values anyway. Today, [First Partner] Jennifer and I join the Sacramento community and all Californians in expressing our deep condolences, and stand in solidarity with Officer O’Sullivan’s family, fellow officers and those she served so honorably.”
O’Sullivan began working at the Police Department in January 2018 as a community service officer before she entered the police academy as a recruit. She graduated in December and began working in the field with a training officer.
She was nearing the end of her training and was set to go out on her own in the coming weeks, Peletta said.
O’Sullivan grew up in the East Bay and graduated from College Park High School in 2011. She served as a police explorer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department before leaving to study child development at Cal State Sacramento.
She was among the first class of graduates of the college’s Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars program in 2017. Program officials shared photos of her Thursday on Facebook, calling her a “wonderful leader” and an “amazing human being.”
In one photo, O’Sullivan beamed as she stood among a sea of students clad in green — Cal State Sacramento’s signature color. Another showed her posing with arms outstretched, showing off her graduation cap adorned with a shamrock.
“I’ll never forget the way your smile brightened the room, whether we were going on calls for service together or just goofin’ around,” fellow graduate Tyler Russell wrote in a tribute post on Facebook. “Proud to have had the opportunity in my life to know you and be your friend.”
Videos posted on Instagram show her completing training exercises to the cheers of others.
“Officer Tara O’Sullivan was one of the most inspirational people I had ever met,” a friend wrote. “She made a great leader and officer. Her presence lit up the whole room. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to watch her grow through LECS, and even more grateful for her friendship. Thank you for protecting us.”
Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby met with O’Sullivan’s parents and her classmates from the police academy Wednesday night to offer her condolences.
“It was hard to see her family so devastated, and it was really hard to see her academy classmates because they are all so young,” Ashby said.
O’Sullivan’s parents could not immediately be reached on Thursday. Photos posted on their Facebook pages feature a smiling O’Sullivan at celebrations with her two siblings and on family vacations. One shows her parents surrounded by their three children in a large group hug.
The officer’s death hit the region — still reeling from the killing of another cop in nearby Davis six months ago — especially hard. Law enforcement agencies across the state posted tributes to her.
For many in Sacramento, her death was closely linked to the killing of 22-year-old Natalie Corona in January. Corona was also new to the Davis police force, having finished the academy last summer and field training in December.
Like O’Sullivan, Corona was responding to a routine call when she was ambushed by a gunman, later identified as Kevin Douglas Limbaugh. Limbaugh likely shot Corona before she saw him as he approached the scene on a bicycle.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg called O’Sullivan an “incredible role model” for other women looking to join the ranks of law enforcement.
“It’s breaking barriers,” he said. “I hope she’s remembered for that.”
Ed Obayashi, a statewide police trainer with extensive experience in domestic violence cases, said O’Sullivan may have been targeted by the gunman because she was a woman.
In his experience, he said, female officers are often singled out by domestic violence suspects who transfer their anger based on gender.
“They identified the female cop with the other half of their relationship, she’s a female, she’s my first target,” Obayashi said. “She’s in a position of authority, and it’s basically like [he] is asserting control.”
Though it’s not clear what happened immediately before O’Sullivan was shot, Obayashi expects authorities to investigate what role, if any, her gender played in the gunman’s actions.
Emerging details indicate the gunman could have been lying in wait, making the crime premeditated rather than one of passion, Obayashi said. It’s common for suspects in domestic violence calls to be unpredictable and physically dangerous, but that police handle so many domestic violence incidents that they have become routine, he said.
“Was she a target of opportunity, or did he have time to say: ‘Oh, great. She’s a female officer, so she is going first,’” Obayashi said. “That is what the detectives are going to be asking him: Why her?”
Chabria reported from Sacramento. Fry and Shalby reported from Los Angeles.