We lost another brother.
Southern California sheriff’s deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, who was shot and critically wounded on Monday while getting food at a fast-food restaurant, did not survive.
The 13-year-veteran deputy died Wednesday afternoon surrounded by loved ones.
Police say they’ve arrested his killer, a 30-year-old Utah man.
The suspect is Rhett Nelson of St. George, Utah. Police say he’s also suspected in the fatal shooting of another man in central Los Angeles on Monday evening.
“We have the suspect in custody,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Wednesday. “We are continuing processing all the information, all the evidence to present a solid case for prosecution,” he added.
The shooting of 50-year-old Deputy Joseph Solano happened late Monday night. Solano was off-duty and in civilian clothes as he stopped at the Jack in the Box in Alhambra while getting an oil change for his sick mother’s car at a nearby Jiffy Lube.
Police say he was getting his food when Nelson walked up from behind and shot him in the head.
Police say there appears to be no connection between Nelson and Solano and no obvious motive.
Solano was not wearing anything that would identify him as a law-enforcement officer and investigators said the shooting appeared to be random, adding there was “no prior knowledge, there’s no indication that he knew that the person was a law-enforcement officer.”
“The deputy was alerted in the restaurant that someone was following him and that’s when he turned to confront it and that’s when the shooting happened,” Villanueva said.
“The motive or rationale from the suspect, that’s a million-dollar question.”
Solano was described as a dedicated family man, who lost his father just a few months ago. He’s now the sole provider and caregiver for his mother.
“He definitely is a kindhearted, generous person,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “Always willing to help others before himself. Has a bright smile, very positive individual. Everyone likes working with him, so we’re all rooting for him to make a recovery.”
Solano was most recently assigned to the department’s custody division, and co-workers said he was well-liked by everyone.
“Not only did I lose a father figure but a best friend,” Solano’s step-daughter told the media as she held back tears. “I would like to thank everybody who has supported us, sent us prayers, and the whole entire law enforcement.”
His son also was choked up at the news conference calling Solano “a really good dad.”
Solano’s girlfriend talked about her anger, calling the attack a “senseless tragedy” and thanked law enforcement for “apprehending the perpetrator.”
“Although the outcome was not what we wished it to be, we have solace knowing that he is in a better place now.”
Police say that on Tuesday morning, Nelson stopped at a church in Long Beach and called his father to say he had committed murder in Southern California.
They say his father called authorities in Long Beach, who were able to trace the number he gave them to the church.
Police found Nelson driving a short distance from the church around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday in the 2400 block of Granada Avenue in Long Beach. They pulled him over and later connected him to the shooting and placed him under arrest.
Up until Tuesday, Nelson had been listed as a missing person out of Utah. According to a social media posting, family members said he has a history of opioid use and had been missing since May 27.
According to Los Angeles Police chief Michel Moore, investigators are also connecting Nelson to the fatal shooting of a person in the 1900 block of 7th Street in central Los Angeles.
In that shooting, they say a car drove up to someone standing on the street, had a brief exchange with the victim and then opened fire, killing the person and taking off.
The suspect, clothing and vehicle description match those in the Alhambra shooting, according to police.
After the Alhambra shooting, there was a massive manhunt for the suspect seen in surveillance footage shooting the deputy at the restaurant.
At the news conference, Villanueva said police also were investigating whether Nelson was linked to numerous armed robberies in the San Diego area.
“It’s an astonishing level of violent crime in such a short period of time and we can only think that but for this last incident that crime spree may have continued,” said Villanueva.
He thanked the man’s father.
“But, we’re fortunate that the father of the suspect made a very key phone call to the Long Beach Police Department that allowed us to put the resources together to detain him so there were no further victims in this person’s crime spree that didn’t look like it would be abated until he was actually arrested.”
On Tuesday, Nelson’s father issued a statement saying he was “saddened beyond words” by the shooting “and to learn that our son Rhett is being held in connection with this horrifying and senseless attack.”
The father said his son disappeared on May 26 – days after that, the dad posted on facebook that his son “has a history of opiate abuse and has been clean for about 6 months, but we know what a terrible struggle that is. We are praying for his safe return.”