SANTA ROSA, Calif. – A Northern California community is anguished over the fatal police shooting of a popular 13-year-old boy who had been carrying a pellet gun that looked like an assault rifle.
Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies had repeatedly asked the boy, Andy Lopez, to drop the weapon, but instead he raised it in their direction, police said at a news conference Wednesday.
Only after the shooting did deputies realize the gun was a replica that looked strikingly similar to a real AK-47 assault rifle.
Residents of Santa Rosa, a suburban town of roughly 170,000 people about 50 miles northwest of San Francisco in California’s wine country, were shaken by the boy’s death.
Many expressed their grief by leaving candles, teddy bears and flowers at the edge of the field where the teen was shot Tuesday afternoon.
Some community members wondered whether the deputies acted appropriately when they fired on such a young person.
Lopez, an eighth-grader who played trumpet in his school band, was described as a bright and popular student, said Linsey Gannon, assistant principal at Lawrence Cook Middle School.
Andy was a very loved student, a very popular, very handsome young man, very smart and capable, Gannon said Wednesday. Our community has been rocked by his loss.
Even members of law enforcement expressed sympathy.
In a statement, Sheriff Steve Freitas said the shooting was a tragedy and that he would do everything he could to ensure the investigation was thorough and transparent.
As a father of two boys about this age, I can’t begin to imagine the grief this family is going through, he said.
After the deputies spotted the boy Tuesday, they called for backup and repeatedly ordered him to drop the gun, sheriff’s Lt. Dennis O’Leary said in a news release. Lopez’s back was turned toward the deputies, and they did not realize that he was a boy.
According to the Santa Rosa police, the boy was about 20 to 30 feet from them when he turned toward the deputies with the gun, and they opened fire.
The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Santa Rosa police displayed the pellet gun at Wednesday’s news conference. Deputies also found a plastic handgun in the boy’s waistband, O’Leary said.
The deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard after a shooting, he said.
The boy’s father, Rodrigo Lopez, said the gun was a toy that belonged to his son’s friend.
I told him what I tell him every day, he said in Spanish. Behave yourself.