An overnight manhunt in Lamont during which sheriff’s deputies were repeatedly shot at and schools had to be shut down ended Thursday with the suspect found dead and an investigation launched into how he died.
The man, who had not been publicly identified by Thursday evening, was hit by several rounds from the deputies, but Kern County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ray Pruitt said it was unclear if he died of those wounds or if he took his own life.
The sheriff’s office believed it knew who the man was but had not positively identified him, Pruitt said. Authorities said the man was about 20 years old and believed to be a Lamont resident.
They said he was discovered with weapons in a trailer behind a private residence that sheriff’s deputies had surrounded after a chase.
The deputies who fired their guns have been put on routine paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the sheriff’s office.
In the midst of the search, the Lamont School District canceled classes on the advice of the sheriff’s office, and the home in the 8100 block of Bonita Road and several neighboring houses were evacuated.
“We didn’t know if this was going to take 10 minutes (or) 10 hours,” said sheriff’s Cmdr. Daniel Leper.
The ordeal began about 10 p.m. Wednesday when a sheriff’s deputy attempted to pull over the driver of a 1990s Honda sedan for a license plate violation in the east alley of Main Street at Bonita Road, Pruitt said. The driver stopped but ran from his car, Pruitt said.
The deputy chased him, but the suspect fired one round at him, Pruitt said, so the deputy called for back-up and deputies established a perimeter around the area. The deputy was not hit, and didn’t return fire, the department reported.
At about 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, authorities searching streets and yards in the neighborhood located the suspect again, this time behind a tire store. Once again, the suspect fired at authorities. This time, one deputy returned fire, Pruitt said.
No deputies or bystanders were hurt, he said. The suspect again fled on foot and deputies lost sight of him. At that point, it wasn’t known whether the suspect was injured.
More deputies and officers from other departments were called to create a large perimeter around the second shooting area. A sheriff’s SWAT team was called, and deputies held the perimeter and delayed the search until sunlight.
At about 8:24 a.m. Thursday, authorities conducting a door-to-door search found someone hiding in a trailer at the rear of a private property on Bonita Road, Pruitt said. When they approached the trailer, someone fired at them, he said.
Leper said deputies returned fire and neither they nor nearby residents were injured in the volley. He added that it was unclear why the man hid in that particular dwelling.
“We’re trying to find out if he has a relation with that residence,” Leper said at the scene.
Later in a news release, the department said that after deputies returned gunfire, they “observed the suspect fall out of sight inside the trailer.
Shortly thereafter deputies were able to enter the trailer and confirmed the suspect had been struck numerous times by gunfire.”
The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
News reporters were barred from speaking with possible witnesses to the shootings. Also, entire blocks around the trailer were blocked off and no one was allowed into the immediate area.
Rather than risk school children walking by the scene, authorities initially asked the school district to put classes on a two-hour delay, but later recommended canceling classes entirely.
Lamont School District offices also closed Thursday, so representatives from the district could not be reached for comment.
Steve Sanders, Kern County Superintendent of Schools chief of staff, said the superintendent helped get the word out about Lamont’s school closure through its alert system, normally used when there’s fog or other inclement weather.
Sanders said the district felt parents were able to get the message before students were sent to school. “But with this type of thing, there may be some issues with parents showing up,” he said.
Carolina Soria, who lives right outside the police perimeter, was worried for her three kids’ safety when she heard school was canceled.
“It’s hard when school is closed,” she said. “That’s when you think, ‘Oh my god, this is maybe serious.’”
Soria heard four gunshots overnight, but remained half asleep as the commotion outside carried on. When she awoke in the morning, she was scared, but spent the morning on her front lawn to get answers about what happened the night before.
Naomi Hernandez lives about two blocks away from Bonita Road. Her pregnant sister lives right outside the police perimeter, so Hernandez went to check on her Thursday.
Hernandez said she thinks the suspect might have run through her backyard at some point during Wednesday night’s pursuit because she heard her fence rattling and her dogs barking. But, she said, she was too scared to check and see if anyone was outside.
She also heard helicopters circling overheard all night, she said.
“It’s scary for everybody,” she said.
— Californian staff writer Courtenay Edelhart contributed to this report.