SANTA ROSA, California (AP) - A Northern California community is anguished over the fatal police shooting of a popular, 13-year-old boy who had been carrying a replica gun that looked like an assault rifle.
Sonoma County sheriff's deputies had repeatedly asked the boy, Andy Lopez, to drop the weapon, but instead he raised it in their direction, police said at a news conference Wednesday.
Only after the shooting did deputies realize the gun was a replica that looked strikingly similar to a real AK-47 assault rifle.
Residents of Santa Rosa, a suburban town of roughly 170,000 people northwest of San Francisco in California's wine country, were shaken by the boy's death. Many expressed their grief by leaving candles, teddy bears and flowers at the edge of the field where the teen was shot Tuesday afternoon.
Some community members wondered whether the police acted appropriately when they decided to fire on such a young person.
Meanwhile, two U.S. boys of similar ages have been accused of killing school teachers in separate incidents this week. On Monday in the neighboring state of Nevada, a middle school teacher was allegedly shot by a 12-year-old student. And on Tuesday, prosecutors in Massachusetts say a 14-year-old student killed a math teacher.
In Sonoma County, Sheriff Steve Freitas said the shooting was a "tragedy" and that he would do everything he could to ensure the investigation was thorough and transparent.
After the deputies spotted the boy Tuesday, they called for backup and repeatedly ordered him to drop the gun, sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary said in a news release. His back was turned toward the deputies, and they did not realize at the time that he was a boy.
According to the Santa Rosa police, the boy was about 20 to 30 feet from them when he turned toward the deputies with the gun and they opened fire.
The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
At Wednesday's news conference, Santa Rosa police displayed the pellet gun, which resembled an AK-47 with a black magazine and brown butt.
Deputies also found a plastic handgun in the boy's waistband, O'Leary said. The deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard after a shooting, he said.
The boy's family was back at their mobile home Tuesday night after identifying the teen's body, the Press Democrat reported.
Andy's father, Rodrigo Lopez, told the newspaper that he last saw his son Tuesday morning. He also said the gun was a toy that belonged to a friend of his son's.
Also Wednesday, a child at a Southern California elementary school pulled the trigger of a police rifle, firing a bullet that shattered and created shrapnel that injured three youngsters, authorities said.
The AR-15 was locked to the side of a motorcycle that was on display at Newman Elementary School during an anti-drug program when a student managed to fire it, Chino police spokeswoman Tamrin Olden said.
A third student was examined at the school and released to parents, she said.
The children were treated for cuts and scrapes, said Fire Department spokeswoman Massiel Ladron De Guevara.
The weapons mount holding the rifle had several fail-safes, including the metal plate, Olden said.
There was no immediate word on whether a police officer was nearby when the accidental discharge occurred.
Rifles have been removed from other police motorcycles while the shooting is investigated, Olden said at a news conference.
Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com