09/18/2007

Calif. police shoot gunman who fired into a church

By Farrin Montanez
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO, Calif. Three Fresno police officers shot and wounded a man Monday morning after he fired several rounds into a southeast Fresno church and then stood in an intersection waving a handgun at officers, police said.

The man was shot several times in a neighborhood near Easterby Knox Presbyterian Church, across the street from Bakman Elementary School on Belmont Avenue west of Peach Avenue.

As the events unfolded, Bakman students huddled quietly inside their classrooms with doors and windows closed.

The wounded man, described by police as white and in his early 50s, had not been identified by Monday evening. He was taken by ambulance to Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno with injuries that were not life-threatening, said deputy Chris Curtice, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.

The three police officers who have not been identified are on paid administrative leave, which typically occurs while officer-involved shootings are investigated.

The Sheriff's Department is handling the investigation because the initial shooting was at the church on the south side of Belmont Avenue, which is part of a county island, Curtice said.

The officers fired their weapons from a supermarket parking lot on the north side of Belmont Avenue, which is within the city limits.

The number of bullets fired by the officers and the wounded man is not yet known, Curtice said.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said officers found the man waving a gun and standing in the intersection near the church at Belmont and Sylmar avenues about 10:45 a.m.

At one point, the man pointed the gun at his head, Dyer said.

Police then got on a public address system and asked the man to drop his weapon.

But the man started walking toward Bakman School. He then pointed the gun at officers, Dyer said.

The three officers opened fire, striking the man several times, Dyer said.

Officers later discovered that the man had fired shots into Easterby Knox Presbyterian Church.

A group of women was meeting in the church at the time, but nobody was injured, Dyer said.

The motive is unclear, but Dyer said officers heard that the man may have had a dispute with a woman earlier.

Fresno Unified spokeswoman Susan Bedi said police asked Bakman and Easterby elementary schools and Kings Canyon Middle School to lock classroom doors and school gates about 11 a.m., Bedi said.

The lockdown lasted about 20 minutes.

The investigation forced the closure of Belmont Avenue between Peach and Helm avenues.

It also delayed school lunch times at Bakman and prompted school officials to summon buses to take some students home so they wouldn't have to walk near the crime scene.

Stephanie Pacheco, 10, a fifth-grader at Bakman, said she was initially scared when officials announced the school was being locked down.

She said her teacher made sure everyone stayed calm.

Her father, Esteban Pacheco, said he didn't know about the shooting until he picked up his daughter after school.

Another Bakman student, Jeremy Martinez, 12, said the police action was the highlight of a relatively normal day.

Students were reading when the lockdown was announced. A boy named Junior rushed to the window, Jeremy said.

"There's police outside and they've got their guns drawn," Junior reportedly told the class. "I think they are going to shoot someone."

Jeremy said he never heard gunfire. "It was kind of boring because I couldn't see or hear anything," he said.

Copyright 2007 Fresno Bee

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