We now know the name of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy who confused a BB gun for a real rifle and frantically unloaded seven rounds into a 13-year-old boy who was walking about a half-mile from his own home in broad daylight.
We also know that Sonoma County Deputy Erick Gelhaus, 48, is a military veteran who served in the Iraq war, an expert on firearms, a gun instructor and a frequent writer for online gun publications. He received the department’s Medal of Valor on 2004 for rescuing people from a building on fire.
He was the shooter who killed Andy Lopez last Tuesday afternoon, the department confirmed to NBC News. Gelhaus’s name was first reported by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper.
In a 2008 posting for S.W.A.T. magazine, Gelhaus wrote about the need for an officer to “turn on the ‘Mean Gene’” because “today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home.”
Gelhaus (pictured) also once wrote specifically about the possibility of shooting someone armed only with a BB gun.
“It's going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury,” Gelhaus posted in the self-described “leading online forum for firearms enthusiasts,” The Firing Line. “I think we keep coming back to this, articulation -- your ability to explain why -- will be quite significant.
A deputy since 1989, Gelhaus is described by colleagues as a “go to guy” with “a lot of credibility” in the sheriff’s department.
According to police, Gelhaus and a partner pulled their cruiser up behind Lopez at about 3:14 in the afternoon. Gelhaus got out of the vehicle and ordered Lopez to drop his gun, which was in fact a toy — though it reportedly was missing the orange tip required by law to distinguish toy guns from real ones.
When the 8th-grader turned around, he allegedly raised the barrel of the fake weapon and that’s when Gelhaus opened fire. Of his eight shots, seven struck Lopez, killing him.
Gelhaus’s partner has not been identified publicly, but reportedly did not fire his own weapon in the incident.
Witnesses say that Gelhaus shouted at Lopez once, then immediately shot him.
The area of southwest Santa Rosa where Gelhaus killed the boy is known to deputies for its heavy gang and drug activity.
Despite his 24-year tenure with the department and his outspoken expertise with guns, the only record of Gelhaus ever firing his gun while on duty came in 1995 when he accidentally shot himself in the leg while holstering his gun.
Gelhaus had never fired on a suspect prior to last Tuesday’s shooting.
SOURCES: Santa Rosa Press Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle, NBC Bay Area, ABC 7, The Firing Line, Modern Service Weapons