Two sheriff’s deputies in Northern California shot and killed 13-year-old boy who they thought was carrying an assault rifle, only to find out that the gun the teen was holding was a toy, police and family members have said.
The officers, on patrol Tuesday in Sonoma County, reported seeing the boy carrying what appeared to be a black AK-47, reports the AP. A photo made public after the tragedy show a toy weapon with a black magazine cartridge and brown butt.
Sheriff’s Lieutenant Dennis O’Leary told reporters the deputies called for backup and repeatedly ordered the boy to drop the weapon before they both opened fire with their handguns. It was not clear whether the boy, later identified as Andy Lopez by his father Rodrigo, pointed the weapon at the officers.
Rodrigo Lopez told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat his son had been taking the toy to a friend’s house and also carried a pretend pistol in his waistband. The family said the gun was a “toy” but a police press statement described it as a “replica” Airsoft gun designed to look real while firing small plastic BBs.
“I told him what I tell him every day,” Mr. Lopez said of the last time he saw his son on Tuesday morning. “Behave yourself.”
Neighbor Brian Zastrow said the incident occurred in the afternoon when students were on the way home from school and many parents had left their jobs. The sudden eruption of gunfire echoed throughout the neighborhood.
“First I heard a single siren and within seconds I heard seven shots go off, sounded like a nail gun, is what I thought it was,” he said. “After that I heard multiple sirens.”
A video of the incident captured by another neighbor reportedly shows the two officers taking cover behind their patrol car with a body visible in the foreground.
The names of the officers involved have not been made public but both have been placed on administrative leave, a routine course of action after a shooting occurs.
Lopez was an eighth-grader at Lawrence Cook Middle School, where he played trumpet in the school band. The community adorned the site where he was shot with candles and other tributes, yet reports made it clear the shocking news had not yet sunk in for the Lopez family or the surrounding area.
“Andy was a very loved student, a very popular, very handsome young man, very smart and capable,” Lawrence Cook assistant principal Linsey Gannon told the Press Democrat newspaper. “Our community has been rocked by his loss.”
Approached by reporters upon returning home from identifying her son, Sujey Annel Cruz Cazarez wept as she was comforted by family and friends.
“Why did they kill him?” she said. “Why?”