Counselors, substitute police officers, candles and flowers were flowing in to the Palm Springs police headquarters Monday.
Police Chief Brian Reyes through tears announced a vigil, and said his building would have counselors available not only for employees, but for members of the Palm Springs community who were upset by the murders of Sgt. Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie police officer Lesley Zerebny, 27.
They were allegedly slain by an ex-con with a history of armed violence as they answered a domestic disturbance call in front of a house in Palm Springs Saturday.
American flags were held aloft, and people cried, at the city’s police headquarters as Reyes spoke to journalists Sunday. Citizens and city employees alike struggled to deal with the loss of two police officers from a force of just 96 sworn officers, Reyes said.
And with a small police department serving a small town, the loss hit hard away from the police station.
Vega was “a nice and thoughtful guy,” said Gabby Sanchez, a clerk in the county courthouse.
“A very caring person” was how Dianna Cotte described Vega. She remembered him from mending his uniforms at the Guys and Gals Uniforms store, near the police station.
Larissa Provost, a Los Angeles police officer and mother of four, drove to Palm Springs today to express maternal sorrow that Zerebny’s baby “won’t have any memories of her.
“I’m somewhat in the middle of my career and I think of the mother connection,” said the mournful LAPD cop, whose youngest child is 7 year old.
Police and civilian workers from across the Coachella Valley and as far away as Los Angeles had volunteered to work shifts in Palm Springs today. That was freeing up PSPD officers to escort family members or perform other unusual tasks today, or to talk to trained counselors.
As for his department, the police chief said “some are strong one second, some are broken the next.
“Just please understand, everyone has their moments,” Reyes said.
The police chief said “a number of counselors are coming in for the department, the entire community.”
Standing amidst flowers and balloons, and next to a statue of a PSPD officer offering help to a motorist, Reyes said “anybody in the community who feels they will be affected by this tragedy will be welcome here into our home to talk to counselors.”
And he closed his news conference with an assessment.
“Palm Springs has a brand of “like no place else.’
“You are going to witness how this community is like no place else … tonight at 5 p.m., when we are going to have a candleight vigil.”
By midday Sunday, life on a street next to the Palm Springs shooting tragedy seemed to have returned to normal, a little more than 24 hours after violence struck one street over.
On Saturday, two officers were killed and another was injured in a shooting after responding to a”family disturbance” in the 2700 block of North Cypress Road. “It sounded like it was right in my backyard,” said Arnold Callego, who lives across and down from the residence where the suspected holed himself up during the 12-hour standoff with police
“It sounded like an automatic weapon.”
Callego said he was cooking when he heard at least three instances of rapid-fire rounds. At first he thought it was construction next door, but then he heard pleas for help coming from North Cypress Road, which lies to the east.
“I got down on the floor and barricaded myself in the back of the house in case [the suspect] came through,” he said.
Callego, 33, has lived in the house all his life and said this is the first time he’s seen anything like the police presence that responded on Saturday.
“It’s generally pretty quite. The worst thing you get is a nuisance call for parties.”
Police still had North Cypress Road cordoned off at 2 p.m. Sunday and were not anticipating opening up the street until the late afternoon. However, the residents on North Chuperosa that had been evacuated on Saturday had been let back into their homes.
One house had two tall, blown-out candles on the porch.
“There is a scared feeling that stuff happened, but I’m glad they arrested the guy,” said Callego.
One of his neighbors, Tom Brueggemann, a writer who moved to the area seven months ago from West Hollywood, said he had heard a loud shot accompanied by the sound of wood crackling Saturday afternoon. “I thought it was fireworks. Then I thought someone was damaging my house.”
After he found out what was going on, he said he didn’t feel as threatened.
By sunset, he said there were residents gathered on the corner of North Cypress and East Del Lago Road where police had set-up a command center.
The area is part of the Desert Parks Estates neighborhood, a quiet middle-class suburb full of desert-styled homes just north of Racquet Club Road. “It’s a close-knit community. I can feel how this is a bigger shock here as opposed to West Hollywood or Los Angeles,” said Brueggemann.
“It was a safe neighborhood before, it’s going to be a safe neighborhood tomorrow and it’s going to keep being a safe neighborhood.”
Police apprehended the suspect in the early hours of Sunday morning after deploying chemical agents into the house containing the suspect. Soon after he ran outside through the back door where he surrendered peacefully. “I am impressed by the local law enforcement, that they resolved it with a surrender,” said Brueggemann.
Although he found it hard to sleep after all the commotion on Saturday, he said “today it’s a normal Sunday afternoon here.”
— City News Service