The sheriff’s deputy who shot a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a replica rifle opened fire so quickly that his partner didn’t even have time to get out of their police car.
That information comes from the partner’s own statements, as conveyed by Santa Rosa Police Lt. Paul Henry, whose department is investigating the shooting.
The tragic incident took place in the afternoon of Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa, a Northern California city.
The partner has not been publicly identified. But the deputy who shot 13-year-old Andy Lopez seven times with eight rounds from his .9mm service weapon has been confirmed as Erick Gelhaus, 48, a 24-year-veteran of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, who is also a firearms expert and instructor.
Gelhaus (pictured) may not have identified himself as a law enforcement officer before opening fire on the boy whose back was turned as the cruiser pulled up behind him. The cruiser’s siren did not fully sound but only “chirped” as the car approached the boy, according to police accounts.
The victim, Lopez, had his back to the deputies. He was carrying what police describe as a “replica AK-47 assault-style rifle.” As he turned turned to face the deputies, the barrel of the phony gun appeared to rise. Gelhaus immediately opened fire.
Of the seven rounds that struck the teenager, two proved fatal, according to police.
Gelahus told investigators that he could not recall whether or not he identified himself as a law enforcement officer before firing. He started shooting so quickly that his partner, who was driving, was still inside the vehicle.
Gelhaus and his partner — an 11-year law enforcement veteran who was just starting with the Sonoma County department and being trained by Gelhaus — have both been placed on adminstrative leave.
A lawyer for Gelhaus, Terry Leoni, spoke to the press on Wednesday for the first time, saying that though the deputy “feels for the loss of life, [he] absolutely believed it was a real AK-47 and absolutely feared for his life.”
Lopez was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood down at the time he was shot. He was not wearing earbuds or headphones that would have prevented him from hearing Gelhaus’s commands.
According to witnesses, Gelhaus shouted at the boy to drop his gun just prior to shooting him.
Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Santa Rosa Press Democrat