A California Highway Patrol officer was killed Monday and two other officers were wounded when a man with an assault-style rifle opened fire in a brazen daytime shootout off a freeway in Riverside that also left the gunman dead.
The gunfire erupted around 5:30 p.m. after a CHP officer pulled over a white pickup truck on a road just off Interstate 215 east of Los Angeles, Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said.
Officers decided to impound the truck and a tow truck had been called when the driver reached into the back of his pickup, grabbed a rifle and opened fire, authorities said. Details about the violation that led to the traffic stop were not immediately available.
The first CHP officer, later identified as Officer Andre Moye, was shot, followed by two others who responded to his call for help, Railsback said. Video showed one officer rushed to the hospital in the back seat of a patrol car while Moye was taken by helicopter to the hospital where he later died.
Debbie Howard, a family member of the slain officer, rushed to the hospital inconsolable and in disbelief.
"I've been knowing him since he was a baby," she said in tears. "I don't understand. I just don't understand."
She said the officer was a good person and loved his job.
"That's all he talked about," she said. "I'm going to be CHP. And he did it."
Riverside police and Riverside County sheriff's deputies also were called and more gunfire erupted as the gunman took cover in front of his car before he was killed, authorities said.
The suspect's name was confirmed as Aaron Luther by his father, Dennis Luther. Luther said the family is "devastated" and the officers are in their thoughts.
"My wife and I are just in shock right now. And we’re just praying for the officers," Luther told NBC News late Monday.
It was not clear why he opened fire, police said.
"We don't know his motive for this crime," Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said.
Luther said he doesn't know what his son was doing with a gun as a felon, which is illegal. Criminal records show he was convicted in November 2007 of assault with a deadly weapon.
After his truck was impounded, Aaron Luther called his wife to pick him up, his father said. When she arrived, the tow truck was there.
"She said she heard 'pop, pop, pop' ... gunfire, and then a bullet went through the windshield of her car," Luther said of his son's wife.
The father said his son recently seemed depressed, was having knee pain and marital problems but was devoted to his two children and a stepchild.
"He lived for his kids. That's what motivated him," Luther said. "So I don't know what overcame him. I mean, I wish I did know."
Someone in another car was hit by flying glass that caused minor injuries, Railsback said.
Jennifer Moctezuma, 31, of Moreno Valley said she was driving home with her 6-year-old twins and was caught in the crossfire.
"The bullet went straight in the middle of my windshield, between my head and my two kids," she said. "I told my kids to get down and duck. But they couldn't. They had their seat belts on in their car seats. I had to unbuckle them, then we all got down."
Charles Childress, a Marine from Moreno Valley, grabbed the children and pulled them out of harm's way by hiding them behind the engine block of the car.
"There were still rounds being fired between the officers and whoever was up there," he said. "We had a couple more ricochets passing us. I was yelling for people to get down."
Bullet holes could be seen in the front windows of two patrol cars and large holes blown in their back windows. A blood trail could be seen in the street and blood could be seen on the hood of a truck and what appeared to be an assault-style weapon on a sidewalk nearby.
Officers from all over the Inland Empire went to the Riverside University Medical Center to support their wounded colleagues. Late Monday, officers carried the flag-draped casket containing the slain officer out of the hospital.
"I am devastated by the tragedy that unfolded earlier in Riverside. Tonight, I mourn the loss of one of our own," CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said in a tweet.
The two other officers injured in the gun battle are expected to recover, according to the CHP. One of them, a six-year veteran, suffered minor leg injuries. The other is a four-year veteran who suffered leg injuries and was hospitalized in critical condition.
Wire services contributed to this report.