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PALM SPRINGS, CA – Two Palm Springs police officers were shot to death and a third was wounded Saturday afternoon as they responded to a domestic call about a troubled man.
The two officers were shot to death near Cypress and Del Lago Roads, Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes confirmed. One of the officers was a new mom and the other was due to retire in a few months. As night fell Saturday night in the normally-quiet neighborhood, a house in the 2700 block of Cypress Road remained surrounded by police and the neighborhood was cordoned off. It’s not known if the shooter was injured in an exchange of gunfire with police. Three police helicopters were spotted circling overhead for hours.
“I’m awake in a nightmare right now,” a teary-eyed chief told reporters at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “Today Palm Springs lost two brave officers. They go out every day and put their boots on the ground for this community.
“They gave it all for you.”
One of the slain officers was a 35-year veteran of the department due to retire in December. Officer Jose Gil Vega, 63, was married and had eight children. He was scheduled to be off Saturday but picked up an overtime shift. Also slain was Lesley Zerebny, 27, who recently returned to duty from maternity leave. She has a 4-month-old child and was on the force for one and a half years. She’s married to a Riverside County deputy.
“He’d already submitted his paperwork to retire,” Reyes said. “She’d just returned to work after giving birth to her baby daughter four months ago.”
The third officer who was shot is in a local hospital and is “alert and doing well,” according to Chief Reyes, who would not divulge the extent of the officer’s injuries.
Police said a woman called 911 to report that her adult son was causing a disturbance at a home in the 2700 block of Cypress Road. The officers were dispatched at 12:18 p.m. Reyes said the young man threatened to shoot officers through the front door. The officers were standing outside the door and were attempting to talk with the man when the shots were fired.
After the first two officers arrived on the scene, a request for emergency assistance was radioed in.
“I was here in front of my house, and I hear some shooting,” John Gracieano, who lives about a block from the incident, told Patch Saturday night. “I thought it was something like firecrackers… I never hear that kind of shooting before, only on TV.
“… Later, when the shooting stopped, I saw cops driving backwards with somebody in the trunk. I think it was the lady, the officer. Then two cops took the lady off the trunk, and put her on the ground. And then they started giving her CPR. And then the ambulance came by and took her away.”
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office now has tactical command of the scene. Residents are asked to stay indoors. Witnesses in the neighborhood reported hearing machine-gun fire and said they heard as many as 20 shots. Police in tactical gear swarmed the area, and police said a “code red alert” was issued for the neighborhood. Some homes were evacuated.
“We are actively looking for a cop murderer,” the chief said, asking that local news media and residents refrain from livestreaming video on social media of the movements of tactical officers in the neighborhood. “Those livestreams are unnecessary and it puts (the officers) in danger.”
Police are not releasing any information about the family that made the 911 call or the suspected shooter. Reporters asked about the history of calls to the residence, but Chief Reyes and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office spokesman both said that information will not be revealed at this time.