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Palm Springs shooting: Suspect in killing of 2 officers arrested

Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny

Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A suspect in the killing of two police officers was arrested early Sunday — more than 12 hours after the fatal shooting during a domestic disturbance call in Palm Springs, California.

Police identified the suspect as John Felix, a 26-year-old resident of Palm Springs.

Felix is accused of killing Palm Springs officers Jose Gilbert Vega, a 35-year veteran due to retire this year, and Lesley Zerebny, who joined the department recently and just got back from maternity leave.

A third officer was wounded and is recovering from nonlife-threatening injuries.

The Saturday afternoon shooting led authorities to a standoff that extended into early Sunday. Police, who have released few details, say they will elaborate on the shooting at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET) Sunday.

Mother’s call

The incident started after officers responded to a 911 call at a house in Palm Springs, a resort town about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

A woman made the call around midday local time and said her adult son had caused a disturbance, Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said.

When officers arrived, Felix refused to open the front door and threatened to shoot the officers, police said.

Within 10 minutes of their arrival, as they tried to get him to comply with their orders, Felix opened fire through the closed front door, according to police.

Palm Springs resident Arnold Morales described hearing a flurry of gunshots in rapid succession as he drove home from the gym.

“That’s not fireworks,” Morales told KMIR. “(It was) bang-bang-bang. We must’ve heard at least 30 shots. It could be more.”

‘Awake in a nightmare’

Fighting back tears at a news conference, Reyes described the two slain officers as “guardians” of Palm Springs.

Vega, a 63-year-old father of eight, had served as a police officer for 35 years. He had filed paperwork to retire in December, but continued to pick up overtime shifts like the one he worked Saturday, the police chief said.

“Here he is, 35 years in, still pushing a patrol car for our community to make it better,” Reyes said. “On a day he wasn’t even designed to work.”

Zerebny, a “wonderful, young, dedicated” 27-year-old officer, joined the department last year, Reyes said.

After going away on maternity leave, she had just returned to duty. She leaves behind her husband, who is a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, and a 4-month-old daughter.

“I am awake in a nightmare right now,” Reyes said.

‘My employees are broken’

Saturday’s shooting comes on the heels of a deadly summer for police officers in the United States.

On July 17, a gunman killed three officers and wounded another three 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, and need prayers.

“My employees are broken,” he said.

As the officers mourned, the community left flowers at the police station and held a candlelight vigil.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, offering his condolences to the officers’ families, ordered the state capitol flags to be flown at half-staff.

“Officers Vega and Zerebny were killed today doing what they do every day — protecting their community,” he said in a statement Saturday night. “We grieve with the family members, friends and fellow officers coping with this senseless tragedy.”

Palm Springs police officers led a procession for both officers from the Desert Regional Medical Center to the Riverside County Sheriff Coroner’s Office in Indio.

“Words cannot properly describe the heartbreak and the shock we are all feeling,” the Palm Springs Police Officers Association said in a statement.

Onlookers gathered at the Interstate 10 overpass as squad cars with flashing lights passed underneath them.

As police cars made their way down the interstate, motorists lit their lights in solidarity.