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Deputy Fights for His Life : Violence: Seven-year veteran Steven Belanger is in critical condition after being shot in head. The gunman later committed suicide, police say.

December 12, 1994|ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles deputy sheriff was in critical but stable condition Sunday after being shot by a skateboard-riding gunman who later turned his pistol on himself and committed suicide in front of a Catholic church in Paramount, authorities said.

Steven Belanger, 29, a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was wounded in the head and foot Saturday evening as he questioned an assault suspect in Rowland Heights.

Family and friends flocked to Belanger's bedside Sunday at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina. Also at his side were about two dozen sheriff's deputies, who described Belanger--a married father of a 15-month-old daughter--as outgoing, athletic and especially fond of baseball.

"We're all pulling for him," said Deputy Dan Duran, who was Belanger's training supervisor when he was rookie. "He's just an outstanding kid."

Belanger was unconscious and under heavy sedation as doctors waited for swelling to subside before attempting to remove the bullet from his head, Duran said.

Authorities identified the suspected gunman as Matthew Hagemann, 20, of Rowland Heights.

The shooting took place about 5:30 p.m. Saturday after Belanger recognized Gregory Dewayne Powell, 18, as a man wanted for a previous assault and stopped him and a 15-year-old girl as they drove by in a car, Deputy Brian Jones said.

As the deputy searched the girl, Hagemann--a friend of Powell's--cruised up from behind on a skateboard and fired two shots before fleeing with Powell and the 15-year-old, Jones said.

About an hour later, Jones said, an anonymous caller contacted the Sheriff's Department and said that Hagemann "admitted to shooting the deputy and was going to kill himself."

About 8:35 p.m., deputies responded to calls of shots being fired at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Paramount, about 16 miles from where the other shooting occurred.

Lying in a pool of blood on a sidewalk in front of the church was Hagemann, with a single wound to his head. At his side was the handgun believed to be the weapon used to shoot Belanger, Jones said. Hagemann was pronounced dead at the scene.

Powell and the 15-year-old girl turned themselves in to West Covina police about 12:15 a.m. Sunday. The girl was released to her parents, Jones said, and Powell was booked into Central Jail on the previous assault with a deadly weapon charge.

Detectives were still investigating what role, if any, Powell and the girl played in Belanger's shooting, Jones said.

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