Suspect In Killing Of Two Palm Springs Officers Arrested

Jose Gilbert Vega/Lesley Zerebny

PALM SPRINGS, CA (CNN) — He was a 35-year veteran police officer, headed for retirement.

She was relatively new to the police force, just back from maternity leave.

They were among the first to respond to a family disturbance call Saturday in Palm Springs, California, and it cost them their lives.

The officers tried to negotiate with a distraught man, asking him to step outside his residence, Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said.

Instead, the man shot at police from behind the closed front door, police said.

The incident then evolved into a standoff that extended into early Sunday after the suspect barricaded himself in his home.

The two slain victims were identified as Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, who was due to retire this year, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, a new mom.

Both were rushed to a nearby hospital, where they died from their injuries.

“I have two officers that are now looking down on us from above, and our police department is now walking in the footsteps of two additional heroes,” Reyes said at a news conference Sunday.

“You have two extreme ends of the spectrum in terms of officers’ careers — one at the tail end and one at the beginning,” Reyes said.

They become part of a grim statistic:  two of 43 law enforcement officers shot to death so far this year in the US, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which keeps data on officers killed on the job.

A third officer is recovering from non-life threatening injuries, Chief Reyes said.

The suspect, John Felix, a 26-year-old resident of Palm Springs, was arrested early Sunday — more than 12 hours after the fatal shootings, police said.

John Felix PSPD Booking Photo
“It was a simple family disturbance, and he elected to open fire on a few of the guardians of the city,” Chief Reyes said.

Felix surrendered “peacefully” after a lengthy standoff, according to a statement the Riverside County Sheriff’s office.

He was treated at a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Felix was to be booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on two counts of murder of a peace officer, the statement said.

Riverside County District attorney Michael Hestrin said criminal charges would be filed Tuesday.

“We will be filing two counts of first-degree murder and at least two special circumstances — one being multiple murder and one being murder of a police officer in the line of duty,” Hestrin said at Sunday’s news conference.

He said he is considering whether to pursue the death penalty.

“I’m going to stick with the process.

I will tell you that I consider a brutal murder of a police officer to be a very heinous crime, so I’ll leave it at that,” Hestrin said.