Preliminary autopsy and ballistics findings confirm that a Santa Clarita Valley gunman who held officers at bay Friday fired the shot that killed a deputy, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said Monday.
The angle of the shot, analysis of the bullet that hit Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian and statements by suspected gunman James Allen Beck all indicate that Beck was responsible for the death, sheriff's officials said, seeking to dismiss speculation that Kuredjian was hit by "friendly fire."
Also on Monday, sheriff's and fire officials continued to investigate the blaze that destroyed Beck's home after the shootout, which began when officers tried to serve a search warrant. The "likelihood" was that the fire was started by hot tear gas canisters fired by deputies through the window of the bedroom from which Beck was shooting, said Lt. Raymond Peavy of the Sheriff's Homicide Division.
Investigators believe the fire started on a bed, Peavy said. Officials had said they thought that Beck might have started the blaze.
The announcement by investigators was prompted by an Associated Press story quoting Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Patterson casting doubt on the theory that Beck shot Kuredjian. "It upset the department," Lt. Carl Deeley said. "We're trying to deal with this tragedy. We're already on the edge of endurance."
Patterson, reached by phone Monday, declined to comment.
A sheriff's investigation found that the bullet that struck Kuredjian in the head traveled in a "steep downward arc" from the second floor of Beck's home, Deeley said. The trajectory of the bullet eliminates the possibility that another law enforcement officer shot Kuredjian in the gun battle in which authorities fired more than 150 rounds, ending when Beck's home caught fire and burned to the ground, Deeley said.
"Without a doubt, it was Beck who shot him," Deeley said.
Sheriff's officials said the department based its investigation on interviews, expert analysis and an autopsy report.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed Monday that Kuredjian died from a mortal head wound but said the official autopsy report would not be made public for at least several days.
Kuredjian, a popular motorcycle deputy, responded within minutes to the department's call Friday for help after Beck opened fire in the affluent Stevenson Ranch neighborhood.
Kuredjian took cover behind a Ford Explorer near Beck's home, the investigators said. During this time, Beck moved from the first to the second floor of his home, a location that would match the angle cited in the autopsy report, officials said.
"No other officers were at that high of a level," said Peavy.
About the time Kuredjian was shot, authorities also reported hearing a boom louder than any of the previous rounds of gunfire and seeing a puff of smoke coming from the second-floor window, concluding that the shot and subsequent rounds came from one of Beck's high-powered rifles, Peavy said. Investigators found several weapons at Beck's home. However, they have not identified one was used to kill Kuredjian.
The slain deputy was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Sheriff's investigators theorized that Beck used a sight to target the helmet, firing a round that fragmented once it hit the helmet's visor. A fragment of that bullet penetrated the visor and the main body of the fiberglass helmet before entering the deputy's head near the right temple. It passed through his skull and brain and then lodged in his left cheek, Peavy said.
The bullet fragment was removed during the autopsy. Sheriff's Department weapons experts who examined the fragment said it "was consistent with being fired from a high-powered rifle," according to Peavy.
Gunman: 'I'm Sorry I Hurt the Deputy'
During telephone negotiations between Beck and law enforcement officials, Beck apologized for shooting the deputy and said he did not want to go to jail, officials said. According to Peavy, Beck responded: "I'm not going to give up. I'm sorry I hurt the deputy. . . . But I'm not going to go back to prison for the rest of my life. If you come in, you'll pay the price."
After Kuredjian was shot, Beck peppered the area with gunfire, making it impossible for other officers to pull the deputy to safety, Peavy said. It took five to 10 minutes, he said, before they could drag Kuredjian out of the line of fire and hustle to emergency crews.
Kuredjian's two brothers and his girlfriend appeared at a new conference at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station to accept a check for $8,177.31 from neighborhood children who raised money to help them.
With dark sunglasses and slumped postures, brothers Garo and Raffi Kuredjian and girlfriend Theresa Richardson held hands during the presentation and hugged the children and their parents. They were surrounded by the dozens of red roses, white daisies, yellow sunflowers and peach carnations that community well-wishers placed along the entrance to the station.