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California community mourns 13-year-old killed for holding AK-47 look-alike

Andy Lopez was walking in a California field, toy gun in hand, when a sheriff’s deputy spotted him. Law enforcement twice ordered him to drop what resembled an AK-47, and when he began to make other motions, the deputy fired.

By Contributor / October 25, 2013

A photo of Andy Lopez is shown at a makeshift memorial at the site of his death in Santa Rosa, Calif., October 24, 2013. Andy, 13, carrying a replica of an assault rifle, was shot and killed Tuesday by sheriff's deputies who believed the gun was real.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

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Several hundred people marched more than three miles on Thursday evening from the city hall in Santa Rosa, Calif., to the field where two days before, a 13-year-old boy was fatally shot by law enforcement while he was carrying a toy pellet gun that resembled an AK-47.

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Katherine Jacobsen writes for the Monitor's international desk. 

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Some held candles and signs that read: “What a tragedy, what a travesty,” according to media reports.

On Tuesday afternoon, Andy Lopez was walking home from his friend’s house, toy gun in hand, when a sheriff’s deputy spotted him – and the AK-47 look-alike – from behind. 

From there, everything unfolded in a matter of seconds. 

The deputy and his partner, who were out on regular patrol duty, pulled over their car and took cover behind the vehicle’s doors, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. 

The patrol car’s overhead light and siren were activated, and law enforcement twice ordered Andy, who was about 20 to 30 feet away, to drop the gun, one witness said, according to an Associated Press report.

Andy began to turn around in the direction of the deputies, barrel of the rifle rising up, one officer said.

Seven bullets struck the young teenager. Sixteen seconds later, the officers called for medial attention, according to Reuters.

Andy died at the scene, and what was thought to be an assault weapon turned out to be a plastic replica, officers discovered. 

The trademark orange tip that federal law requires toy-gun manufacturers to place on the ends of fake guns was missing from the pellet gun, law enforcement reported. Also, a toy handgun was found in Andy’s waistband, but it had the orange tip.   

The two deputies involved in the incident have not been publicly identified and have been placed on administrative leave. 

The deputy who shot the teen is a 24-year veteran, and his partner, who did not fire his weapon, is a new hire, Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat news outlet.

The deputy who opened fire was said to have considerable experience with AK-47s. At a Wednesday press conference, law enforcement displayed an actual AK-47 and the airsoft replica held by Andy, making a point about the challenge of discerning real from fake weapons at a distance. 

“It really is a toy gun,” said Ryan Podesta, owner of Thirty First Outfitters, a store in Cotati, Calif., that sells airsoft guns and gear. “It just looks real,” he said. The airsoft rifle, which shoots BB gun pellets, is an increasingly popular toy gun, Mr. Podesta told the Press Democrat in an interview. 

“People have to do something,” said Elbert Howard, a founding member of the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline of Sonoma County, in an interview with Reuters. “He’s a child, and he had a toy. I see that as an overreaction to shoot him down.”

In 2000, an advisory panel of the US Commission on Civil Rights urged Sonoma County, where Tuesday's shooting took place, to create civilian review boards following eight fatal officer-involved shootings in less than three years, but that recommendation went unheeded, Reuters reported

Andy’s death “is a tragedy on many levels,” Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said in a statement Wednesday. “As a father of two boys about this age, I can't begin to imagine the grief this family is going through," he said. "My hope is that we can work with the community to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future."

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