A Kern County Sheriff's deputy was among five people killed Sunday after gunfire broke out during an apparent domestic violence incident at a home in Wasco, authorities reported Monday.
Deputy Phillip Campas was shot and killed and Deputy Dizander Guerrero was wounded while responding as part of a SWAT team to reports Sunday afternoon of a loud argument and gunfire inside a home in the 1700 block of First Street, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a news conference Monday morning.
Deputies descended upon the scene at 1:05 p.m. after receiving a 9-1-1 call. At the front of the residence, a woman told officers that two to three “shooting victims” were located inside, according to a Kern County Sheriff’s Office news release.
Officers knew two victims had been shot upon their arrival but were not aware of a third victim, said Lt. Joel Swanson, a public information officer for the KCSO.
When the deputies approached the house at 1:08 p.m., the suspect began firing from inside the residence. Uninjured officers began to retreat and created a perimeter around the area; they also requested assistance from a SWAT team and units from the California Highway Patrol.
The 41-year-old suspect is believed to have already shot and killed two of his sons, ages 24 and 17, and their 42-year-old mother by the time members of the SWAT team entered the residence shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday. But deputies did not know whether victims were still alive inside and so they went in to rescue them, Youngblood explained Monday.
"We had received a 9-1-1 call that had an open line and we believed that the victim, at least one victim, was still alive and we felt obligated to go in and try and rescue that victim," Youngblood said.
Two additional people, both female, were also determined to be on the scene and escaped as deputies initially arrived, the KCSO’s news release said.
Campas and Guerrero were hit by rifle fire as they approached the suspect's house and were taken to a local hospital, Youngblood said, adding that two other deputies were struck by shrapnel but remained at the scene. Campas later died from his wounds.
Kern Law Enforcement Association Director Jeremy Storar described Campas as an impeccable human being who fully embraced public service.
“He’s a titan within law enforcement,” Storar said. “The department and KLEA (are) at a huge loss with his death and passing.”
Campas leaves behind his wife Christina, two young daughters and a stepson.
The suspect's name and those of the family members killed were not released.
On Monday, yellow police tape blocked off the crumbling house, the windows riddled with bullet holes. Community members, with tears streaming down their faces, left candles and flowers in front of the house. A sheriff’s car drove by at regular intervals to ensure no trespassers entered the grounds.
They were a loving family, said neighbor Isabel Velasquez, who identified herself as a family friend for 19 years. She said the father seemed to have been intoxicated when he allegedly shot his family.
Velasquez said she heard the mother screaming for help and thrust the couple's two girls out of the father’s reach.
The girls were able to escape the house and run four houses down the street to the home of neighbor Brianna Flores.
“It’s just heartbreaking for me,” Flores said. “It’s painful … you never know how it is inside a home, you only see the outside of it.”
Youngblood called the SWAT effort a "heroic attempt" to rescue people believed to have been hostages.
"In this particular case, we had a choice. We believed with information we received from the 9-1-1 calls, from the open line, from information we had, that there were people that were alive in there that needed to be rescued and I think we were correct in that assumption," Youngblood said. "That requires a SWAT entry, which is probably the most dangerous thing that we do and I think in this case proved out that yesterday.”
An hours-long standoff followed the shots fired at deputies. Not until 6:28 p.m. did the suspect exit the house and begin climbing onto a roof armed with an AK-47-style assault rifle, Youngblood said. That's when officers fired at and struck the suspect, the sheriff added, and after that the shooter was declared dead and the three other victims were found deceased.
The incident cast a pall across Wasco most of Sunday afternoon. In a town small enough for many residents to know each other, the impacts of the shooting will likely be felt for days if not weeks.
“Every block had dozens of residents outside, many upset because they know people on that street,” Wasco City Councilman Vincent Martinez said of the shooting. “They know people in the home. So it’s devastating. Pretty much our entire city knew about this while it was going on yesterday, and it’s impacted a lot of people.”
A total of 23 deputies have been placed on administrative leave as a result of the incident. Youngblood said not all of those deputies discharged their firearms during the shooting, but some were close friends of Campas.
KCSO's SWAT team has been taken out of commission following the deadly hours-long standoff.
"We went down, met with SWAT team down in our SWAT room, and it was obvious that they were incapable at that point of responding to another SWAT call," Youngblood said.
Should the need arise, the Bakersfield Police Department SWAT team will respond to relevant incidents. In addition, Youngblood said BPD responded to most of KCSO's emergency calls on Monday morning.
The incident has prompted an outpouring of support for local law enforcement, especially for Deputy Campas, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Marta Hinojosa, a nearby resident, said these incidents make her grateful for law enforcement and she passes her condolences to all those affected.
“It's just sad to know that … this senseless man … took out his family (and) did not care,” Hinojosa said. “The officer, his family, what they're going through — my condolences. My heart breaks.”
The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom announced flags will be flown at half-staff in Campas' honor.
A candlelight vigil has been scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday at 7th and F streets in Wasco.