PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Two police officers were shot and killed and another was wounded Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance in a Palm Springs residential area, authorities say.
Dozens of police massed outside a house where a suspect appeared to be holed up. Officers took defensive positions behind a patrol car and a concrete wall.
"Today Palm Springs lost two brave officers," Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said at a news conference, his voice shaking with emotion. "I am awake in a nightmare right now."
The slain police were Lesley Zerebny and Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega. Reyes said Vega was a 35-year veteran who was due to retire in December and had chosen to work overtime on Saturday. Zerebny is the mother of a 4-month-old baby, he said.
The officers were at the door of a house when the shooting began, Reyes said.
"It was a simple family disturbance and he elected to open fire," Reyes said.
Police were searching for the gunman in the area of Cypress and Del Lago roads and encouraged residents to stay indoors. Multiple officers in tactical gear were taking cover behind a four-foot wall.
Several other officers stood close by an armored vehicle parked on Cypress Road a block south of Francis Road.
Desert Regional Medical Center, where the three police officers were taken after the shooting, is closed to visitors until further notice.
Witnesses said they heard between 10 and 20 gunshots from what sounded like machine guns. Over a dozen patrol cars, three fire engines and a SWAT truck were at the scene of the incident at 2 p.m. Palm Springs police and San Jacinto police were on scene.
Frances Serrano, who lives directly across the street from where the shooting took place, spoke to the father of the suspected shooter moments before the incident. The father told Serrano that his son, who has mental issues, had a gun and wanted to shoot cops.
“He came over and asked for help,” she said.
Serrano called the police and the father walked back toward his house. Soon after, Serrano heard gunshots. Later police knocked on Serrano's door.
At 2:45 p.m., Serrano said two officers were on her front patio kneeling on the ground with rifles pointed at the shooter's house.
Gerardo Barrera was working nearby in the quiet residential area when he heard gun shots.
"I saw a person on the ground,” he said. “Someone kept pumping her chest but she wasn't moving."
"It sounded like fireworks at first,” said Juan Garciano, who lives a block from the scene. “I came out of the house and saw police start to block the roads."