published Friday, October 25th, 2013

Suspect slain in Mojave Desert shooting spree

RIDGECREST, Calif. — A man shot two people, one fatally, and then led police on a wild chase through the Mojave Desert with two hostages in his trunk before being killed in a gunbattle with police.

Ridgecrest police were investigating a shooting scene shortly after 5 a.m. Friday where a woman was found dead and a man was found injured, with multiple gunshot wounds. During the investigation, a police officer got a call on his cell phone from the suspect, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference. The suspect said he wanted to come to the department and kill officers but, because police had too many guns, he would "wreak havoc" elsewhere. He also told police he has a package for them, but it was unclear what he meant by that.

Nearly two hours later, a sheriff's deputy spotted the suspect's car and a pursuit began over roughly 30 miles of highway, through arid stretches of desert. The suspect ran traffic off the road, firing at least 10 times from inside his black Dodge Dart with a shotgun and a handgun. No motorists were hurt, Youngblood said.

At one point during the chase, which lasted more than 40 minutes, the suspect pulled over and the car's trunk popped open, revealing a man and woman inside. They appeared to shut the trunk, the sheriff said. It's unclear if he opened the trunk or if they opened it from inside. The man then got back in the car and continued driving.

At some point, the man made a threat that he was going to kill the two people in the trunk, Youngblood said.

In the end, the man pulled over again on U.S. 395, turned in his seat and began shooting into the trunk. As many as seven officers opened fire and killed the man.

The hostages were flown to a hospital. Their conditions were unknown, but the sheriff said he believed the two will survive.

The suspect apparently knew all of the victims at the original crime scene in the city of Ridgecrest, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, Youngblood said.

There was some information that the suspect was using Facebook during the pursuit, but it wasn't immediately clear what the postings were, Youngblood said. Investigators recovered the shotgun and a handgun.

A crime scene was set up along U.S. 395 at Kramer Junction, where two police helicopters landed amid numerous law enforcement vehicles. The CHP said the highway was closed from Kramer Junction for 10 miles north because of the investigation. Youngblood said the highway would likely be closed into the night while the investigation continued.

Schools in Ridgecrest were placed on lockdown as a precaution but were later reopened.

The city of about 27,000 people is adjacent to the vast Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which sprawls over more than 1,700 square miles of desert. U.S. 395 runs through the western Mojave, below the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada.

Ridgecrest Mayor Dan Clark called the incident disturbing, especially because the small city is relatively crime free.

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