Two sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica assault rifle -- who they say wouldn’t drop it -- prompting outrage and grief in the typically quiet Northern California city of Santa Rosa.
The Sonoma County deputies on patrol saw the boy, identified as Andy Lopez, walking in a blue hoodie with what appeared to be a rifle at 3:14 p.m. Tuesday, Sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary said in a statement. The replica gun resembled an AK-47 with a black magazine cartridge and brown butt, according to a photograph the sheriff released. It did not have the traditionally orange tip of a replica firearm. There is a photo of the fake gun and a real AK47 posted below.
Andy's father, Rodrigo Lopez, said he can't believe his son wouldn't listen to authorities if they asked him to drop the weapon. His son, he said, had a lot of respect for police.
"I sense that he did obey orders," Rodrigo Lopez said.
Other community members also stood behind the boy.
"He was not a gang member, he was an 8th grader," said Anita Ruiz, whose son was friends with the victim. "He was not a criminal, but yet he's dead. He's 13 years old. Couldn't something else have been done?"
Nicole Guerra, another mother whose son was friends with Andy, could barely contain her emotions.
"He's not the kind of boy that would resist," she told NBC Bay Area, wailing and gasping as she tried to articulate her thoughts. "He wanted to go to college and do something with his life. He would not have resisted. No way, no way. He's not that kind of boy."
The sheriff's department outlined the basic facts from the agency's point of view. Two deputies patrolling near Moorland and West Robles avenues in Santa Rosa about 3 p.m. spotted a "male subject" carrying what appeared to be an assault style rifle, similar to an AK-47 assault rifle.
The deputies hit their sirens and called for backup. Then, according to O'Leary, the deputies "repeatedly ordered the subject to drop the rifle."
Initially, officers said the subject’s back was toward them, but as they ordered him to put down the weapon they said he began to turn toward them. The department issued this statement:
"One of the deputies described that as the subject was turning toward him the barrel of the assault rifle was rising up and turning in his direction. The deputy feared for his safety, the safety of his partner, and the safety of the community members in the area. He believed the subject was going to shoot at him or his partner. The deputy described that he is aware an assault weapon of this type is capable of firing a bullet that can penetrate his body armor, the metal exterior of his car, and the walls of the residential houses behind him. The deputy then fired several rounds from his service weapon at the subject, striking him at least one time."
The deputies still commanded Lopez to move away from the rifle, the sheriff's statement read, but at this point, he was "unresponsive." Deputies handcuffed him, administered First Aid and called for medical help.
But it was too late. Andy was pronounced dead at the scene. In addition to learning the rifle wasn't real, the sheriff's department also stated they found a plastic hand gun in his waistband.
As is standard protocol, this officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments, and the District Attorney’s Office. The Sonoma County deputies who were involved in this incident have been placed on administrative leave, which is routine for such events.
Residents on Wednesday night held a protest in response to the killing and demanded justice for the Cruz family. Neighbors also paid their respects a growing memorial of flowers, photos, candles and stuff animals near where the boy was fatally shot.
Santa Rosa is about 55 miles north of San Francisco and better known, like other cities in the North Bay, for its wineries. This year, Santa Rosa was ranked among the Top 10 "happiest cities" in the United States. Andy's death marks the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Sonoma County this year. He had attended Lawrence Cook Middle School, where Assistant Principal Linsey Gannon said he was a talented trumpet player.
"He was a handsome young man with many friends and a lovely family," Gannon said. "He will be missed."
Bay City News and Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.