A 25-year-old Fresno man, distraught over work problems, shot two officers and holed up in his northwest Fresno town house, where he fatally shot himself late Thursday morning during a seven-hour police standoff.
Police found James George Lunsford dead about 11:15 a.m. in an upstairs bathroom closet inside his condo at San Jose Villas, near Shaw and Brawley avenues. He had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and a handgun was found nearby, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Thursday afternoon.
Police described Lunsford as a suicidal man with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who lured officers to his town house with an early-morning 911 call for help, and opened fire from his second-floor balcony once they reached his front door.
"This was an absolute ambush against two Fresno police officers," Dyer said.
Bullets pierced the walls of neighbors who hid in closets and back rooms as Lunsford fired dozens of shots from his town house. In a series of bizarre phone calls to police, he spoke to a dispatcher as he reloaded his weapon and continued popping off rounds, ignoring pleas to stop firing. Lunsford also ranted about a suicidal boyfriend who apparently doesn't exist, and later ignited a fire that set off sprinklers, flooding his home with several feet of water.
Both officers are expected to survive.
One of them, 27-year-old Daniel Messick, was released from University Medical Center on Thursday. He was shot once in the left calf, and the bullet went through his leg, police said.
Messick, who is assigned to patrol southeast Fresno, has been an officer for 17 months. He began working with the Fresno Police Department as a cadet in June 2004. He was working temporarily in the northwest district, where the shooting occurred.
The other officer, 22-year-old Trevor Shipman, was shot as many as five times. One bullet to his back was stopped by his ballistics vest, which Dyer displayed at an afternoon news conference. Two bullets hit his left thigh, one grazed his left forearm and a fifth may have hit Shipman's gun belt, Dyer said.
Shipman, hired in February 2005, is in stable condition at UMC. He underwent surgery Thursday, and will be hospitalized for several days, Dyer said.
"He is in good spirits, but he's in a lot of pain," Dyer said.
The incident marked the second shooting of a Fresno police officer in less than three months. Motorcycle officer Brian Nieto was shot three times July 31 during a traffic stop in central Fresno — the first shooting of a Fresno police officer since July 2001.
"Three police officers have been shot in the last 21/2 months," Dyer said. "That reflects the level of violence in our society and the diminished level of respect for police officers."
Lunsford quit his supervisor position at California Closets in northwest Fresno two weeks ago because he was facing a demotion from production manager to installer, co-worker Robert Jackson said.
"He took the demotion pretty hard," said Jackson, who replaced Lunsford in the management position.
Lunsford first began working with the custom closet company at its Bakersfield store in 1997, according to his MySpace profile. He graduated from Garces High School in 1999 and attended Bakersfield College.
Lunsford's uncle, Jeff, who lives in Washington, operates three California Closets outlets in Bakersfield, Fresno and in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Wash.
Thursday, employees at the Fresno store were left "completely bewildered," Jackson said.
Court records show Lunsford was on probation for a drunken-driving arrest in Bakersfield on June 23, 2005. He was fined $975 and received three years of probation after pleading no contest to driving under the influence, according to Kern County Superior Court records.
He did not have any criminal cases in Fresno County, according to court logs.
Thursday's drama began shortly before 3:30 a.m.
Lunsford called 911 to report that a person he called his boyfriend, George, was suicidal and high on cocaine and heroin, Lt. Randy Dobbins said.
Police interviewed Lunsford's girlfriend Thursday. She told police Lunsford wasn't gay.
Thursday's shooting may have been Lunsford's second attempt to ambush police officers, Dyer said: Lunsford called police Oct. 13 to report something suspicious and was sitting on his balcony when police arrived at his home at 3655 W. San Jose Ave.
That night, nothing happened.
Early Thursday, when officers Messick and Shipman arrived, Lunsford was standing on his balcony, unarmed. He told officers his boyfriend was inside on the first floor and that the suicidal man was scared.
He tossed a set of keys down to the officers, inviting them inside his gate. They let themselves in, and walked about 15 feet to Lunsford's front door. Then, as one officer put the key in the door, Lunsford leaned from his balcony and opened fire on the officers from behind, Dyer said.
The officers initially didn't know where the shots were coming from. Wounded, they drew their weapons and helped each other out of the gated area. Neither returned fire.
An assistant manager at the complex, Shirl Catrina, said she was awakened by loud voices and the sound of at least four gunshots.
Another resident, Marvel Cobbins, 67, said she heard one of the officers yelling after the shots were fired.
Eliana Marciano, 45, said she saw one officer bleeding from what appeared to be a wound to the upper torso and heard the other officer, who was out of sight, moaning in pain.
Her husband, Luiz Marciano, 44, said he was scared for his family.
"Oh, my God, I couldn't do anything to help him," he said. "All we could do is stay inside because we were afraid we would get hurt, too. Thank God we didn't."
Lunsford ducked inside his town house and called 911 at least two more times.
In one call, placed at 3:57 a.m., a dispatcher asked him what he was doing with his weapon.
"Shooting," Lunsford replied.
Moments later, the dispatcher said, "… we don't need anybody getting hurt unnecessarily, OK?"
"I've already hurt a police officer," Lunsford said.
A small army of officers, including the Fresno police SWAT team, surrounded the complex. They closed off nearby roads, including Shaw and Brawley, and evacuated most residents of the complex's 48 town homes, covering some with what appeared to be bulletproof blankets as they walked out.
Some evacuees gathered in front of a nearby carwash and service station, where they made arrangements for friends or relatives to pick them up.
Police believe Lunsford killed himself early in the standoff, Dobbins said.
A crisis negotiator tried to reach Lunsford by calling his cell phone. Officers also used a public-address system and repeatedly shot tear gas inside the condo.
The SWAT team sent a robot in, but it got stuck upstairs, Dobbins said.
Shortly after 11 a.m., SWAT officers stormed the home and found Lunsford dead.
During the standoff, dozens of police officers showed up in waves at UMC to check on Messick and Shipman. Some were on duty; others had just finished working the night shift.
Marked and unmarked police cars clogged the parking lot outside the emergency room entrance.
About 20 officers gathered at the room where Messick was being treated, according to a Fresno police officer at the hospital who asked not to be identified. About 10 of them, some in uniform, crowded inside the room while others stood in the hallway.
Messick was alert and conscious and told the group he was fine. He spoke freely with people in the room. They did not discuss details of the shooting, and kept the conversation light.
His wound was bandaged and he was still wearing his police uniform pants, which were torn. At one point, police technicians showed up, removed the bandage and photographed the wound.
Dyer was in Boston when he learned of the shooting, and flew home in time to give the news conference. Thursday evening, he went to the crime scene to see for himself what happened.
"I don't know what the officers could have done," he said. "You just can't train for every situation. … The officers never really had a chance."