It was one of the most tragic days in recent Ridgecrest history.
Two people are dead and three are injured (two still remain in critical condition as of Friday night) following the high-speed chase of Sergio Munoz, which included an exchange of gunfire with deputies and officers that ended in a shootout near Kramer Junction.
"Every situation is unique and different. There are basic principles that you follow and you just hope you're right," RPD Chief Ron Strand said. "These type of incidents are hard to predict. Like you see with a lot of our spree killings and school shootings, sometimes you just react to them versus preventing them. Sergio was out on bail. I don't think anyone could have guessed something like this could have happened."
At approximately 5:15 a.m. Friday morning, the Ridgecrest Police Department received several 911 calls regarding multiple shots fired and a possible homicide at a triplex on the 500 block of West Atkins Ave.
A resident of that area, Chris Nicholson, said he was getting ready to leave his house in the morning when he heard the beginning of the saga that left the town looking for answers for most of the day.
"I heard the first shot as I got dressed," Nicholson said. "As I was walking out the door, I heard the second shot and saw a muzzle flash. Then I went outside and heard three more shots. I heard a woman scream and a car speed away."
The patrol officers arrived at the location of the shots fired and discovered two victims — a female that was deceased and a male who had been shot.
"The male was transported to the hospital and we got an initial statement off of him," Strand said. "We got information pertaining to Sergio Munoz as the shooter and another possible individual involved."
An hour into the investigation, Munoz called an officer at the RPD on his/her cell phone (RPD is withholding that information for now).
"Sergio said (in the phone call to the police officer) that he was apparently looking to create some havoc and he was looking to shoot (Ridgecrest officers)," Strand said. "He said he had a package for us and that was basically the end of that information.
"It was pretty disturbing for us. When we heard what he said, we began to start doubling up our officers and cars."
At that point, the police department decided to come up with a plan to locate Munoz.
Kern County Sheriff's Deputies saw Munoz driving in the county and attempted to stop him. They pursued Munoz through the county and into the city of Ridgecrest.
"During the pursuit, the pursuing deputies and officers noticed Sergio was randomly firing at vehicles that were crossing paths with him," Strand said. "He did so multiple times."
Page 2 of 3 - When Munoz began shooting at random cars, the police department notified the schools and hospital to begin lockdown procedures.
Superintendent of Human Resources at Sierra Sands Unified School District, Ernie Bell, and Sandra Gilliam, Administrator of Patient Care Services at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, spoke on behalf of each entity.
Both the hospital and school district had one thing in common — they both had practiced for emergency situations such as the one that occurred Friday.
Bell said, "At about 6:55 a.m. I received a phone call that Gateway Elementary was placed on lockdown because of a police pursuit and gunfire. Upon notification from our Ridgecrest Police Department, I notified all schools to proceed with an immediate lockdown procedure.
"Thank you to all the teachers, staff, parents and volunteers that made the lockdown of the schools go smoothly this morning. Also, thank you to the police department that kept the school district up to speed on such a serious matter."
Gilliam said, "We went into lockdown for about two hours when the police notified us of the situation. We hope an event like the one today never occurs, but we have to be ready for worst-case scenarios. We run tests and conduct drills on a regular basis for emergencies like today, and because of those practices, everything went according to the plan we have in place."
Strand stressed the importance of these quick procedures, because one of the victims was transported to Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.
"Once (Munoz) started shooting at random drivers passing by, we obviously knew we had something significant," Strand said. "At that point, he was extremely dangerous to the community. At the hospital, we obviously had a victim there at the time. There were some concerns about him coming back and finishing what he started."
The pursuit went through Ridgecrest and went down Upjohn Avenue. The chase continued to Gateway Boulevard, went down Bowman Road, back to China Lake Boulevard and on to Southbound Highway 395.
While the chase was going on, Munoz was updating his Facebook page. The posts began shortly after 7 a.m.
He said in three Facebook posts:
"To all friends got tired of cops lieng and putting me in jail xxxx you lucky bitch i haven't found you just killed 2 snitches xxx and his girl."
"Also xxxx you wanted me dead … now i will when these pigs find me and like a movie i will go."
"High speed chase about to go out like a soldier."
Strand said he had briefly seen the Facebook posts, but his detectives have reviewed them and are doing some follow up on the posts.
When driving on Highway 395, Munoz's trunk periodically popped open. Two individuals that were held hostage in the back of the car kept shutting it as the chase took to highway speeds.
Page 3 of 3 - "It appeared that we possibly had victims in the trunk, possibly hostages," Strand said.
The chase continued through Johannesburg. Munoz stopped a couple of times before his final stand.
"He appeared to shoot the people in his trunk," Strand said. "Several officers engaged the suspect and he was subsequently killed."
The two hostages in the back of the car received gunshot wounds and were flown by helicopter to out-of-area hospitals for treatment of their injuries.
The Ridgecrest Police Department is taking the homicide investigation and the Sheriff's Department is taking the pursuit to go along with the subsequent drive-by shootings.
Strand said his officers and the Sheriff's Department did a solid job in pursuing Munoz through the early-morning hours.
"They did a very good job under a very difficult situation," Strand said. "It's very difficult when passersby are threatened with hostages in the car and you have to weigh everything in what you do. We showed restraint when we had to, and luckily, the pursuit went out of town so we were able to get out of a populated area.
"I think this came out the best it possibly could."
There is some evidence that suggests the whole ordeal may have started in Trona at the mineral plant, but Searles Valley Minerals' Director of Government Affairs and Public Relations, Arzell Hale, said the plant was withholding comment until the investigation was complete.
The Associated Press reported that authorities didn't know what triggered the rampage, but the sister of the man wounded in the initial shooting said Munoz was a heroin dealer that had been staying at her brother's house for about two weeks.
Dawn Meier told The Associated Press her brother, Thaddeus Meier, had been using black tar heroin with Munoz.
She told the AP that she had moved out of the house a week ago to join her boyfriend, Derrick Holland, after he insisted she get her 7-month-old son away from the drug-related traffic.
The AP added that on Thursday, Holland heard Munoz complaining in the yard about how his life was falling apart and he was losing everything due to drugs.
Police said Munoz had recently lost his job.
Mayor Dan Clark commended the response of all law enforcement agencies.
"This is an example of the bravery in our men in blue and I just want to thank the quick response of our police officers, the CHP and the Kern County Sheriff's department," Clark said.
Clark was teaching a conflict resolution class at Mesquite High School when the shooting occurred.