PALM SPRINGS, CA — A 35-year-veteran of the Palm Springs, California, police force and another officer, a new mother, were shot and killed Saturday while responding to a family disturbance call.
Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said officers are grieving for two officers fatally shot on Saturday. “My employees are broken,” he said. “The time to pray for the Palm Springs PD is now.”
A third officer was wounded and is being treated at a local hospital, Reyes said.
The suspect has not been captured, Reyes said, but police have surrounded a house and “they’re going to treat the house as if he’s still in it.”
Officers went to a residence about 12:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m. ET) after a woman called to say her adult son was causing a disturbance, Reyes said. The suspect refused to open the front door and threatened to shoot the officers, Reyes said.
“The officers, from what I understand, were at the front (door) trying to negotiate with the suspect to just comply,” Reyes said. “It was a simple family disturbance and he elected to open fire on … guardians of this city.”
A veteran and a young mother
Killed were Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny.
Vega, a 63-year-old father of eight children, had submitted paperwork to retire in December and was working an overtime shift on Saturday, Reyes said.
“Here he is, 35 years, pushing a patrol car to make this community better,” said a visibly emotional Reyes. “On a day he wasn’t even designed to work!”
Zerebny, 27, was the mother of a 4-month-old daughter and had recently returned to duty from maternity leave, Reyes said.
She had worked about a year and a half with the department and was married to a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office.
The wounded officer’s name and condition was not released but Reyes said the officer was alert and providing information to investigators.
Officers from Palm Springs and nearby law enforcement agencies converged on the neighborhood and surrounded a house where the shooter may have holed up, Reyes said.
A four-block perimeter has been set up and people in the neighborhood have been told to stay inside, Reyes said.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office has taken over the investigation. Deputy Armando Munoz, a spokesman for the agency, said investigators are trying to contact the suspect but they’re not certain he’s inside the building.
At a news conference, Reyes asked the public not to use social media to live-stream movements of officers who surrounded the house.
“Understand we are looking for a cop murderer,” he said. “Do not do that for (the officers’) own safety.”
No motive was provided.
Georgie Eden told the Los Angeles Times she was outside her Palm Springs home with her husband doing yard work when she heard a sound that she later learned was a volley of gunshots.
Her husband said they needed to get in the house, Eden said. The shooting went on for another 10 to 15 minutes, she told the Times.
CNN affiliate KMIR reported the shooting happened around near the area of Cypress and Del Lago Road.
This is the latest shooting of multiple police officers in the United States.
On July 17, three officers were killed and three wounded by a gunman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. About a week earlier, a gunman killed five officers and wounded seven in Dallas.
Reyes said officers are grieving the two slain officers.
The public responded by leaving flowers in front of the police station for the city of about 45,000 residents is 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
“Today Palm Springs lost two brave officers,” Reyes said. “They go out every day and put their boots on the ground for everybody in this community. They gave it all for you.”