OXNARD — The short life of Richard "Midget" Lopez was a tragedy in the making for years.
Before he took a Hueneme High School student hostage Wednesday, prompting a police marksman to kill him, the troubled 17-year-old had survived stretches of homelessness and had been treated repeatedly for mental illness, authorities said.
His father was a longtime criminal in and out of prison. His remarried mother had grown so frustrated that she sometimes refused to see him.
The boy was scolded in Ventura County juvenile court for mischief at age 5 and placed in Ventura County juvenile hall by the time he was 9 for running away, his fraternal grandmother said. Suffering from hallucinations and hearing voices, he was in and out of group homes.
"I want everybody to know my grandson had a mental problem; he was on psych medication, and I have the bottles here," said Lopez's grandmother, Lydia Lopez of Barstow, with whom he lived for most of the last year.
"He used to hear voices that told him to run and jump off the bridge, and he tried to jump off three times," she said. "He needed help, and I cried out for it. What good is it now? He's dead."
Lydia Lopez and her husband, also named Richard, placed their grandson on a bus back to his mother and maternal grandparents in Oxnard early this week, she said, after the teen showed up at their Barstow house with a girlfriend from Oxnard.
But they had a change of heart, and two hours before the Wednesday shooting sent a family member out to find the boy to tell him to come home and begin to work with his grandfather, a long-haul truck driver.
"I sent for Richard," Lydia Lopez said. "But they couldn't find him. It was too late."
The teenager may have suffered, too, because his father, Richard Lopez Jr., 34, refused to pay child support repeatedly in the 1980s, according to court records. The father pleaded guilty to a string of criminal offenses--drug use and petty theft--before 1995, when he was sentenced to state prison for felony spousal abuse. In 1999, drug offenses and a burglary put him back in state prison, where he remains.
Lydia Lopez said the teenager spent most of the last two years with her, because his mother, Cynthia Hernandez, could no longer deal with him.
"He was too much trouble for her," the grandmother said. "All of his court reports say it reflects the way he was brought up."
The slain teenager's family home in south Oxnard, adjacent to gang hangout Durley Park, was overrun with relatives and friends Thursday.
One elderly man declined comment for the family. "We've been told not to say anything," he said.
Oxnard Police Sgt. Jim Seitz, who heads the shooting investigation, said years of trouble and mental illness apparently made Richard Lopez III suicidal.
Often Spoke About Suicide
"He'd talked about committing suicide often for the last couple of years, according to his friends and family members," Seitz said.
Oxnard SWAT team members fatally shot the young gunman after he told a 17-year-old hostage that he was distraught over family problems but couldn't kill himself for religious reasons, so he would force police to do it for him.
The day after the terrifying incident, witnessed by 150 students in the school's central quad, police said they had a better picture of who they were dealing with.
They confirmed the portrait of Lopez, a short, slightly built associate of a south Oxnard gang, as a troubled teen who had spent the last couple of years bouncing between Barstow and Oxnard.
School officials in both cities said he had apparently not attended classes since mid-1998, when he enrolled at Rio Mesa High School near Oxnard but failed to show up for the fall semester.
The last time Oxnard family members saw him was Dec. 30, Seitz said, and they had no idea he was back in town until he was killed.
"When he was here he was basically not staying with anybody," Seitz said. "We have preliminary reports that he had mental health treatment over the years in Van Nuys, Barstow and in Ventura County."
The teenager, who had a long history of minor crime, was being treated at a halfway house in Van Nuys until a few months ago, when he went absent without leave, authorities said. He had been scheduled to appear today in Ventura County Superior Court to answer a charge of handgun possession last summer.
Seitz said he did not know the details of Lopez's final arrest or his criminal history.
But friends and family members described a youth so troubled he would shout at total strangers to pick fights and who desperately sought the comfort of his fractured family but did not consistently receive it.
Friend Peter Reveles, a 17-year-old who lives next to the teenager's maternal grandparents in Oxnard, said Lopez was likable, outgoing and had friends outside his southside Oxnard gang associates.