A 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun that resembled an assault rifle was fatally shot by a Sonoma County, Calif., sheriff’s deputy when the youth turned the barrel in his direction, police said Wednesday.
A single deputy fired at Andy Lopez, killing him on the sidewalk at the edge of an empty lot in Santa Rosa, Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department said during a news conference, according to The Press-Democrat newspaper.
“The deputy’s mind-set was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot,” Henry said.
Lopez, a Santa Rosa eighth-grader, was walking through a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood carrying a pellet gun that resembled an AK-47 assault rifle when he was spotted about 3 p.m. Tuesday by two deputies on routine patrol, Henry said.
The teen had his back to the two deputies, said Henry, whose department is investigating the shooting.
They stopped, took cover behind the doors of their patrol car and ordered him to drop the weapon, Henry said.
Lopez was 20 to 30 feet away, he said, adding the deputies did not realize he was a boy.
The deputy, a law enforcement veteran, believed the AK-47-styled pellet gun “was an authentic weapon,” Henry said.
“He has quite a bit of experience with this kind of weapon. He’s aware of the kind of damage these kinds of weapons can do,” Henry said.
He also was aware such a weapon can fire ammunition that “can penetrate his body armor, can penetrate the metal of his vehicle, and also the sides of houses and buildings in the area,” Henry said, according to the newspaper.
Earlier Wednesday, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said in a statement that the shooting was a “tragedy” and that he would do everything he could to ensure the investigation was thorough and transparent.
“As a father of two boys about this age, I can’t begin to imagine the grief this family is going through,” he said.
Deputies also found a plastic handgun in the boy’s waistband, said sheriff’s Lt. Dennis O’Leary. The deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard after a shooting, he said.