Two California Manhunts End In Gunfire

Two of Northern California's most intense manhunts in decades ended in deadly gunfire, when sheriff's deputies shot and killed murder suspects in Mendocino County and Cupertino only five days apart.

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Two of Northern California's most intense manhunts in decades ended in deadly gunfire, when sheriff's deputies shot and killed murder suspects in Mendocino County and Cupertino only five days apart.

The Mendocino manhunt began on Aug. 27 near Fort Bragg and involved dozens of local, state, and federal agencies. Thus began one of the most challenging manhunts in California law enforcement history.

The suspect, who was wanted for two separate murders, was armed with a rifle and high-powered rounds, had a history of mental illness, and was an experienced woodsman who knew the area like the back of his hand.

This terrain is among the most rugged in the state. Deep, dense, rugged woods stretch for miles. Police briefly spotted the suspect near his mother's home, but he disappeared back into the woods. 

On Sept. 29, the suspect shot at three Alameda County Sheriff's SWAT deputies, who returned fire. The suspect again disappeared into the woods.  Instead of fleeing, the suspect "flanked" the deputies and shot at them from a different location. They returned fire, and the suspect disappeared into the dense woods once again.

Additional officers, including tactical officers and K-9 units, responded to assist in the increasingly dangerous manhunt. The roster included the Sacramento County Sheriff's SWAT team that was involved in a 2010 hostage incident ending with the fatal shooting of the hostage-taker.

Police caught a break—a remote camera planted by law enforcement caught the suspect breaking into a cabin, dressed in black, and armed with a SKS assault rifle. The search area narrowed from 400 square miles to six square miles. A bloodhound was brought in, and SWAT personnel were strategically positioned in the vicinity.

Two days later, on Oct. 1, three Sacramento County Sheriff's SWAT officers spotted the suspect carrying the SKS in "ready firing" position. The deputies shot and killed the suspect, hitting him with seven bullets. No deputies were hurt. After 36 long days, Fort Bragg residents could finally live without fear.

No sooner had the dust settled from the Mendocino manhunt, then on Oct. 5, a "disgruntled employee" at a Cupertino (near San Jose) quarry fatally shot three co-workers and wounded six others. He then fled in his car, which he abandoned. In nearby Sunnyvale, the suspect attempted to carjack a woman, shooting her in the arm.

The suspect then fled on foot into a nearby residential area. Officers from throughout the region, including several SWAT teams, Armored Rescue Vehicles, helicopters and K-9s flooded the area. Police established a tight perimeter, and conducted an exhaustive house-to-house search of 400 homes and yards. Schools were placed on lockdown. Police found several firearms, including an AK-47 rifle, stashed by the suspect in several locations.

By nightfall, the all-day house-to-house search was called off. However, a officers and helicopters remained in the area. The following morning, Oct. 6, three alert Santa Clara Sheriff's deputies on patrol spotted the suspect, who was armed with a handgun. Deputies ordered the suspect to "show his hands." Instead, the suspect made a threatening move with his handgun and was fatally shot by deputies. No deputies were hurt.

In the short span of only five days, two of Northern California's largest police murder manhunts in decades ended in police gunfire. Both suspects were wanted for multiple, cold-blooded murders. Even while being pursued by officers, the suspects remained armed, committing crimes, and continued posing a grave danger to the communities.

While we always hope for a non-violent ending, it was crystal clear that neither murder suspect had any intention of surrendering peacefully. This made their ultimate, violent confrontations predictable.

As one newspaper editorial put it, "Police did what they had to do." I'd add that their decisive actions undoubtedly saved citizen and law enforcement lives.

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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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