Violent rampage rocks community

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Violent rampage rocks communityIn the wake of a shooting rampage that killed two, wounded three and ended with the suspect being shot by officers after a high-speed chase, officials struggle to glean an explanation for the harrowing incident that closed a major highway, locked down the hospital and schools, terrorized motorists and bystanders and left a relatively sheltered community shaken.

The gravity of the catastrophe was, for some, driven home when the all-too familiar sights of our streets and neighborhoods were captured by television crews and broadcast on national news.

Although the Ridgecrest Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff are still investigating the site of the original homicide and the subsequent pursuit and neutralization, early reports indicate that drugs played a role in the events that led up to Friday’s tragedy.

According to RPD reports, Munoz was arrested at the home of an acquaintance on Sunday, Oct. 20, for felony possession of ammunition and drug paraphernalia. He reportedly lost his job at Searles Valley Minerals after failing to pass a drug test.

Munoz allegedly approached a friend and pitched a plan to “eliminate” the snitches, although RPD officials note that his arrest was the result of following leads and not based on the information of informants. The associate apparently declined to participate in Munoz’ plan. Shortly after 5 a.m. on Friday, Munoz then reportedly opened fire on that man and a woman in the residence.

The man, identified as Thaddeus Meier, reportedly called 9-1-1 to report that he and 22-year-old Brittany Metheney had been shot. Officers report that Metheney was found dead upon their arrival. Meier reportedly sustained serious injuries but is expected to survive.

Munoz reportedly left the scene with two hostages — whose names have not yet been released by the authorities. He then called in threats to police — including to one officer on his personal cell phone.

Around 7 a.m. officials also received reports that Munoz was speeding through city streets, firing shots outside of his vehicle and throwing objects out the window as he drove. At one point Munoz stopped the vehicle and opened the trunk, exposing a male and female inside. Officers say the trunk was closed by one of the hostages when Munoz sped away from the pursuing officers.

That chase lasted approximately an hour. During one point Munoz drove near Gateway Elementary School. Shortly before 8 a.m., officials engaged Sierra Sands Unified School District officials who immediately locked down all campuses, and sent automated telephone and e-mail notifications the parents that a shooter was on the loose, that children already at school would not be released and that children not yet at school should not be dropped off.

In the meantime Munoz had fled south on Highway 395, pursued by multiple officers — primarily from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

He reportedly continued firing shots outside of his car, as well as through the back seat toward the victims in the trunk.

Officers say that Munoz continued to fire at oncoming motorists and to drive into oncoming traffic.

Around 8 a.m. Munoz stopped his vehicle about 8 miles north of Highway 58 to again fire into the trunk. When pursuing officers approached, Munoz apparently began firing on them. Officers and deputies returned fire.

Munoz was allegedly struck multiple times by KCSO Lt. Mike Scott, Deputy Brad Bays and Deputy James Webb.

The male and female hostages were airlifted to Antelope Valley Hospital. Both are in critical condition, but expected to survive their injuries.

Munoz was pronounced dead at the scene.

Munoz was apparently posting to Facebook during the ordeal. His page has subsequently been taken down, but screen captures reveal posts that threaten specific officers by name, and complain that he “got tired of cops [lying] and putting me in jail.”

The estranged mother of his children is also named in one of the posts made during the morning incidents. The News Review has not attempted to contact the family of Munoz in the wake of the tragedy, but reports indicate the mother of his children had recently separated from him because of his drug abuse.

While dozens of witnesses have come forward to report their shock, terror and confusion, others have expressed relief that the impact was not broader.

“It’s difficult to be prepared for an event like this, because there is no way to predict human behavior in these situations,” said SSUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Ernie Bell, who handled the logistics of Friday’s lockdown for SSUSD.

“We think there is always room for improvement, and we met with leadership on Friday to debrief and identify ways to better communicate with staff and parents, but overall I think it worked well.”

Bell attributed that in part to the capable teachers and staff within the district. “No matter how you prepare for these situations there is always that element of uncertainty, where staff will have to be ready to make decisions on their feet. We think our staff is able to do that quite well.

“I hope we never have to deal with anything like this again, but we are trying to take away every possible lesson from it.”

Two other potential victims, previously removed from the scene, were the children of the two of the victims. One neighbor reported that when it was discovered that the adults were abusing heroin in the dwelling, the children were removed and kept overnight — which kept them out of harm’s way in the initial slaying.

Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand noted that no injuries were reported during the hours Munoz was driving through the streets firing at bystanders.

Protocol dictates that all officers involved in the shooting be placed on administrative leave pending a review of the incident. That investigation was ongoing at press time.

Both RPD (760-499-5100) and KCSO (661-861-3110) have requested anyone with information contact authorities.

Story First Published: 2013-10-30