Local News

Wednesday, Jan 02 2013 10:16 AM

Family grieves as police investigate shooting by officer

BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Family members of a man who was wounded in an officer-involved shooting that happened just moments into the New Year said he was pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon, but law enforcement agencies did not confirm his death.

On Tuesday evening Gabriel Gurrola, 30, said the only thing keeping his brother, 26-year-old Abel Gurrola, alive at Kern Medical Center was machines. Abel's teary-eyed family members gathered in the hospital's parking lot Tuesday night. Rosemary Lopez, 26, Abel's wife and the mother of his six children, said they were waiting for more relatives to decide if they wanted to donate Abel's organs.

While family members said Abel was pronounced dead at 1:04 p.m. Tuesday, Bakersfield Police Department Lt. Don Krueger confirm that Abel was the man who was shot, but said that he did not have any information as to whether or not Abel had died. He said confirmation of the Abel's death would have to come from the Kern County Sheriff's Department Coroner's Office. An answering service for the coroner's office referred questions to the police department and sheriff's department public information officers. Kern County Sheriff's Commander Dennis Smithson said his understanding Tuesday night was that Abel had not been pronounced dead.

Details about what exactly happened in shooting were still emerging Tuesday, with Abel's family members disputing the account that police provided.

Bakersfield police were called to an apartment complex in the 700 block of Terrace Way at about 12:05 a.m. for reports of shots fired, according to a police department news release.

Officers heard shots as they were walking through the complex and then saw Gurrola holding a rifle, police said. They identified themselves as police officers and ordered Gurrola to drop the rifle, but he refused and fled, the news release said. Gurrola was shot in the ensuing foot pursuit and taken to the hospital with major injuries, police said.

The rifle was recovered and no officers were hurt during the incident, according to police. Police lieutenants on duty Tuesday said the investigation was ongoing and that no other details were available about what happened.

Gurrola's family members said Abel and Gabriel were shooting the rifle to ring in the new year but that Abel didn't do anything to deserve to be shot by police.

Gabriel, who lives at the apartment complex where the shooting occurred, said he and Abel shot a .22 caliber rifle about six time into the ground in nearby an empty lot. The older brother said he didn't know who the gun belonged to but that Abel brought it with a friend.

After they shot the gun, the men returned to Gabriel's apartment, where Abel tried to fix a jam in the gun, Gabriel said. Gabriel and his girlfriend, Laura McTaggart, 30, left to say Happy New Year to friends who lived a few doors away, they said.

Just as they exchanged New Year's greetings, the couple heard a volley of gunfire, Gabriel said. Gabriel and McTaggart said their 11-year-old daughter, who was at their apartment, heard shots and looked outside to see a man fall to his knees and then face first into the ground.

Family members said they knew someone had been shot but that they weren't able to confirm that it was Abel until later Tuesday morning. Gabriel said he and McTaggart couldn't leave the apartment complex for hours after the shooting while police investigated and that officers searched their apartment later on Tuesday.

"(Police) had no reason to shoot (Abel) just cause he has a background of his kind, at that moment he hadn't done anything to deserve to be shot," Lopez said.

Kern County Superior Court records show more than a dozen cases listed under Abel's name. He had pleaded no contest to charges including obstructing a peace officer, possession of ammunition by a felon, possession of a controlled substance and grand theft, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon in 2007.

Lopez said Abel had a criminal record and a history as a gang member but that he was still a good man. They were together for 14 years and their children range in age from 5 months to 8 years old, she said. Abel was out of work at the time of the shooting, but was a mechanic by trade, Gabriel said.

Lopez and Gabriel said they didn't think Abel was running from police when he was shot because a bullet entered the front of his cheek. On Tuesday at the apartment complex, neighbors said a red stain that appeared to be blood marked the spot where Abel fell. The front of an apartment near where Abel collapsed was riddled with bullet holes Tuesday.

Lopez said she hopes the officer who shot Abel is prosecuted and "put behind bars."

"(Police) took him away from six kids and his family. He might be how he is, but he's loved by everybody including his kids. Anybody you meet that knows him can tell you how much of a good man he was, how much of a big heart he had," Lopez said, her voice wavering.

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