PALM SPRINGS, CA – Palm Springs is a vacation destination, a place where the rich and famous rub elbows with students on spring break. It’s an environment that possesses natural, underground irrigation providing lush beauty in a desert community. The San Jacinto mountains offer a breathtaking backdrop. The aerial tramway can take you from the desert floor to a wooded elevation at 8516 feet in a matter of ten minutes. It is the winter home for snowbirds seeking warmth. For those who’ve experienced Palm Springs, “P.S. I Love You” is simply a way to affirm time invested in this beautiful locale.
But over the weekend, a demented mind led to the morbid death for two police officers in the paradise that is Palm Springs.
The suspect arrested for killing the officers and injuring a third during a domestic violence situation, was wearing body armor and carrying ammo magazines, authorities said.
John Felix, 26, was taken down by a SWAT team early Sunday following a prolonged hunt overnight, according to the sheriff’s department. He was booked on two counts of murder of a peace officer.
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) October 9, 2016
José Vega, 63 and Lesley Zerebny, 27, were the officers killed by Felix. They were speaking with him when he suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire.
A Cop for just 18 months, a Mom 4 months ago. She was assassinated this weekend.
Her baby girl will never know her. https://t.co/jU5xkd5D1I
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) October 10, 2016
Vega, married, was a father of eight and planned for retirement in December. But on Saturday, he chose to work even though it was a scheduled day off, and his plans took a tragic turn for the worst.
Zerebny had just returned to work from maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter who is 4-months old, but will be raised without knowing the one who gave her life.
— PoliceVoice.com (@PoliceVoicecom) October 9, 2016
A third unidentified officer was injured, but is alert and doing well.
Felix, who surrendered after a lengthy standoff was also injured and was treated at a hospital, officials said. He admitted being a gang member when charged with attempted murder in a shooting in 2009. He was also combative with officers during an arrest at the same house three years ago, according to The Guardian.
Facing two counts of murder of a peace officer, Felix is eligible for the death penalty according to District Attorney Mike Hestrin, but prosecutors will determine this within the coming weeks.
On the day of the shooting, a woman called 911 saying her son was causing a disturbance. Three officers responded and were simply negotiating with the suspect when they were shot, the police chief said.
Moment’s prior to shooting, the suspect reportedly told his father that he wanted to kill some cops. “My son is inside and we’re scared, he’s acting crazy,” Santos Felix told neighbor Frances Serrano, who said they should call the police.
“Yeah, he already knows they are coming,” the neighbor recounted the senior Felix as saying. “And he is going to shoot them.” Serrano quickly retreated home as the gunfire erupted.
SWAT teams surrounded several blocks around the house where the shooting took place and the residents were told not to answer their doors. Felix came out 12 hours after the shooting when police deployed a chemical agent into the house where he remained.
At the news conference, the police chief shed tears as he shared the news.
“Today, Palm Springs lost two brave officers,” Palm Springs Chief of Police Bryan Reyes said. “I’m awake in a nightmare right now,” Reyes said at the time. “That’s me, but as the chief of police, I’ve got to step forward and stay focused. We will do what we need to do.”
“I don’t even remember anything so vicious and cruel,” said Palm Springs resident Heidi Thompson. “These officers are responding to a domestic call for somebody in need that they don’t even know. They put their life on the line for us, the community. And they get gunned down? I don’t understand it.”
As investigators piece together the malevolent act of a ruthless individual, premeditation is sure to be part of the discussion as Felix reportedly made murderous comments, wore body armor and possessed extra ammunition; things that would indicate his ultimate goal was to snuff out the life of responding officers.