A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department sergeant died today after a gunman opened fire in a Lancaster neighborhood, authorities said.
Fifty-three-year-old Sgt. Steve Owen, a 29-year LAPD veteran, died at a hospital following the attack, sheriff's officials said. He was one of the first deputies to respond to a report of a possible burglar in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7, authorities said during a news conference.
"He was one of the first units on scene," Capt. Steve Katz said. "He was alone at that time."
The tragedy happened during a contentious week in which three suspects died at the hands of police in L.A. County, prompting Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck to decry the number of armed suspects that cops face in the region everyday.
Today in Lancaster a suspect opened fire and then tried to "commandeer" the sergeant's patrol car, which was backed into a responding unit, possibly injuring a deputy inside, Katz said. That deputy, however, was not hit by gunfire, he said.
Cops twice shot it out with the suspect, who took refuge in two different homes as he tried to evade authorities, the captain said. It's not clear if the sergeant was able to return fire, but the suspect was struck in the upper torso, Katz said.
In at least one case the suspect broke into a home and held two teenagers, a boy and a girl, against their will, he said. They were able to use a cellphone to call authorities, Katz said. A SWAT team forced the suspect out, and he surrendered at the back that home, he said. A weapon was recovered, he said..
Owen, who had worked with the department's mounted unit, was well-known in the Antelope Valley, authorities said. The suspect was a parolee who's also from the area, they said.
He was not identified.
"This is a very dark day for the L.A. Sheriff's Department," Katz said.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell was in Hawaii for a conference and for some vacation but was planning on taking the next available flight back to Los Angeles, officials said.
ADDED at 10:48 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016: Local and state leaders issued statements tonight.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell:
The tragedy of a deputy sheriff such as Sergeant Steve Owen making the ultimate sacrifice has a massive impact on the whole law enforcement family. We all mourn together and our hearts go out especially to Steve's immediate family Tania, a detective at Arson/Explosives Detail, his two adult sons Brandon and Chad, a step-daughter Shannon and his mother Millie.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti:
A courageous and decorated hero risked his life for the last time today. Steve Owen, a 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was killed while responding to a plea for help — a plea like so many others in the course of a deputy's or an officer's day. My heart is heavy for Sgt. Owen's wife and children, for law enforcement officers everywhere, and for their families, who contend every day with the fear of losing loved ones who live to protect and serve our communities.
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California Attorney General Kamala Harris:
Sergeant Steve Owen protected his community with bravery and valor and today, made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. On behalf of the California Department of Justice, I offer our deepest condolences to Sergeant Owen's loved ones and to the men and women he served alongside at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, as well as Sheriff Jim McDonnell. This tragic loss serves to remind us of the risks our state's law enforcement officers willingly confront each and every day to keep us safe.