SANTA ROSA, Calif. - A Northern California community is anguished over the fatal police shooting of a popular, 13-year-old boy who had been carrying a replica gun that looked like an assault rifle.
Sonoma County sheriff's deputies had repeatedly asked the boy, Andy Lopez, to drop the weapon, but instead he raised it in their direction, police said at a news conference. Only after the shooting did deputies realize the gun was a replica that looked strikingly similar to a real AK-47 assault rifle.
Residents of Santa Rosa, a suburban town of roughly 170,000 people northwest of San Francisco in California's wine country, were shaken by the boy's death Tuesday afternoon.
While some community members were questioning why police decided to fire on such a young person, the shooting coincided with two separate murders of U.S. school teachers this week that have been linked to students of similar ages. On Monday in the neighbouring state of Nevada, a middle school teacher was allegedly shot by a 12-year-old student. And on Tuesday, prosecutors in Massachusetts say a 14-year-old student killed a math teacher.
In Santa Rosa, hundreds marched on Wednesday night to remember Lopez and protest the shooting of the teen, chanting "We need justice," as they questioned how the deputy mistook a pellet gun for an assault rifle. The marchers went to the site at the edge of a field where the boy was shot. Community members had left candles, teddy bears and flowers there.
Andy, an eighth-grade student who played trumpet in his school band, was described as a bright and popular student, liked by many in his community, including Lawrence Cook Middle School assistant principal Linsey Gannon.
Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said the shooting was a "tragedy" and that he would do everything he could to ensure the investigation was thorough and transparent.
After the deputies spotted the boy Tuesday, they called for backup and repeatedly ordered him to drop the gun, sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary said in a news release. His back was turned toward the deputies, and they did not realize at the time that he was a boy.
According to police, the boy was up to 30 feet (9 metres) from them when he turned toward the officers with the gun and they opened fire.
The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
At Wednesday's news conference, Santa Rosa police displayed the pellet gun, which resembled an AK-47 with a black magazine and brown butt. The pellet gun did not have an orange tip like other replica firearms, including the plastic handgun found in the boy's waistband, police said.
Police also found a plastic handgun in the boy's waistband, O'Leary said. The deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard after a shooting, he said.
Andy's father, Rodrigo Lopez, told a newspaper that he last saw his son Tuesday morning. He also said the gun was a toy that belonged to a friend of his son's.
Further south Wednesday, a child at a Southern California elementary school pulled the trigger of a police rifle, firing a bullet that shattered and created shrapnel that injured three youngsters, authorities said.
The AR-15 was locked to the side of a motorcycle that was on display at Newman Elementary School in Chino during an anti-drug program when a student managed to fire it, Chino police spokeswoman Tamrin Olden said.
Farther up the West Coast in Washington state, an 11-year-old student accused of bringing a handgun, more than 400 rounds of ammunition and several knives to his Vancouver school was arrested Wednesday night, police said.
Police recovered the weapons and ammunition earlier in the day. No one was hurt. The boy was interviewed by detectives and arrested for investigation of one count of attempted murder, police said.
Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com
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