Officials say Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accidentally shot and killed a 17-year-old boy in Palmdale, Calif., early Thursday morning after their bullets ricocheted off the ground when they opened fire at an aggressive dog.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the teen was hit in the chest by at least one “skip” round several yards away from where the deputies stood as they fired multiple shots at a charging dog, identified as a pit bull, just after 3:40 a.m., officials said. Investigators believe that the officers did not notice the teen in the dark, the sheriff’s department added.
The dog had bitten one of the deputies just before the shooting, and the teen, identified by family as Armando Garcia-Muro, went to restrain the animal so it would not attack again, authorities said. The deputy who was bitten did not fire his service weapon but was hit in his right leg by the fragment of a bullet that bounced off the ground after being fired by a fellow deputy.
Authorities say the incident began when the deputies went to an apartment complex in response to a call about a loud party. When they arrived, the dog charged at them and bit one of the deputies in the left knee, Capt. Christopher Bergner of the Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau said at a news conference.
Armando restrained the dog and took it to the back of the complex around the corner. The deputies then retreated from the complex to call for backup and medical units, who arrived and checked on the bitten deputy’s injuries.
At some point, the dog broke free and charged deputies again, causing officers to open fire, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Bergner said that the dog was a full-grown male, weighing in at about 60 to 65 pounds, and was 5 to 7 feet away from the deputies when they opened fire.
The dog was hit and ran away to another area at the back of the complex. When the deputies decided to try to corral the dog to prevent anyone else from being attacked, they noticed Armando on the ground, wounded.
Deputies started medical aid before paramedics arrived, and Armando was rushed to Antelope Valley Hospital but later died.
“He may have been struck by one of the skip rounds in what we’re calling an extremely, extremely unfortunate incident,” Bergner said. “Our initial impression was [the deputies] didn’t even see the individual coming around from the side of the building.”
Armando, who was about to enter his senior year at R. Rex Parris High School in Palmdale, was the eldest of four siblings and described as a dog lover.
“He would give his life for anybody,” his mother, Roberta Alcantar, told the Times. “He was a very loving person.”
His aunt, Amber Alcantar, said that deputies told her that her nephew was shot while trying to stop the dog from attacking deputies a second time. She learned about the teen’s fate when she heard a knock on her door in the early morning. It was one of Armando’s friends, who was looking for the boy’s mother. The other boy was holding a pair of Armando’s bloodied shoes.
“Obviously, something was wrong,” she said.
“My nephew was trying to save the dog because the cops started shooting at the dog,” Amber Alcantar told CBS News. “He put his life on the line for an animal that wasn’t even his.”
She and Armando’s mother went to two hospitals searching for the teen but could not find him, and eventually returned home.
As for the dog’s owner, who declined to be identified, she said that the dog was a 3-year-old blue-nosed pit bull and explained that her home is often used as a hangout by some of the neighborhood kids.
“They are all my friends,” the woman said. “They are good kids. They come over and they listen to music.”
The dog owner said she declined to be identified because she had “too many things going on with the law right now.” She also expressed skepticism over deputies’ claims about her dog’s behavior that night.
“That’s not my dog. That’s not his personality,” she said.
The deputy who was bitten and later hit by a bullet fragment was treated at a hospital and released. The dog was shot and survived but will be euthanized, the Times reports.