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Identity, Motive of Sniper Sought

Authorities search O.C.'s Baker Canyon for clues that might explain what set off the gunman in Saturday's shooting.

June 14, 2004|Dave McKibben and David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Deputies on horseback combed the dense brush of Baker Canyon on Sunday hoping for clues to identify a sniper who injured three people before he was killed in a lengthy gun battle a day earlier.

Investigators still don't know who he was or why he opened fire. "It's somewhat of a mystery," Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. "We may never know what set him off."

Two sheriff's deputies who were wounded by the sniper Saturday were out of the hospital Sunday. Deputy David Tilstra, who was shot as he piloted a helicopter above the gunman, was released within hours of the incident. Deputy Jerry Larson, who had been shot twice, was released Sunday.

Authorities said Sunday the sniper probably was responsible for a similar incident Thursday in the canyon. Resident Connie Mahaffey reported that someone took at least two shots at her as she practiced at a nearby shooting range. Deputies searched the canyon on foot and by air after the incident but found no one.

Sheriff's investigators on horseback and in a helicopter spent much of Sunday looking for a campsite or car the sniper may have used.

They do not believe he lives in the community.

"We all believe he was an outsider," said Mark Ferguson, manager of Baker Canyon Green Recycling, where the shooting began Saturday.

"Everybody knows everybody here in the canyon. We're pretty tight, and nobody knows him. So it makes sense that he was camping out somewhere."

Mahaffey told authorities she had seen a well-dressed African American man looking in her window Thursday several hours before shots were fired at her. On Saturday, the sniper was identified as an African American man wearing green pants and a green shirt.

"We figured he changed somewhere. That's why we're looking for some kind of encampment," Amormino said.

The shooting Saturday started just after 11 a.m. when the sniper fired about 15 shots at Ferguson and another worker at the recycling plant, just north of Silverado Canyon and Santiago Canyon roads in an unincorporated area southeast of Irvine Lake.

The worker's arm was grazed, and the two fled in a truck and called 911 on a mobile phone. Larson and two other deputies arrived in minutes and were trying to make their way across the recycling site to the riverbed as the man fired. Larson was hit in his left shoulder and right arm.

About 2 1/2 hours later, Tilstra was shot in his lower left leg as he flew a two-man SWAT team over Baker Canyon. An hour later, as Tilstra continued flying, one of the SWAT members killed the suspect in a dry creek bed two miles into Baker Canyon.

Dan Dulac, who owns the recycling center and 300 acres in Baker Canyon, lives in a ranch-style home that overlooks the shooting scene. "The whole day was pretty surreal," he said.

"Once we got the kids inside, my wife and I sat there and watched the SWAT guys firing guns from all over the ridges. I don't how much ammunition [the suspect] had, but the SWAT guys had a lot more."

Residents in the canyons said they were still a little frazzled Sunday. But, more than anything, they wanted answers.

"I have no idea who this person was and where he came from," said Amy Ferguson, Mark Ferguson's wife and manager of the Black Star RV Ranch. "It's sad that he's dead because we want to know why. I think that's everybody's biggest question around here."

Dulac, who left Long Beach 18 years ago for peaceful canyon life, said the shootout doesn't have him rethinking his move.

"This was absolutely random," said Dulac, 44. "I think this just makes us more aware of what can happen out here, just like the Black Star Canyon rape did. We've come to realize that nowhere is safe."

Three years ago, two teenage girls were raped and their boyfriends beaten in nearby Black Star Canyon.

Kyle Bourne, 19, taking a break from his job as a cook in nearby Silverado Canyon, said the sniper attack and Black Star Canyon attacks give people the wrong idea:

"Most of the trouble is caused by the outsiders."

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