Minkler shooter took his own life, police chief says

February 25, 2010 

3:50 p.m.: SWAT officers found a handgun next to Rick Liles' head, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Six handguns and four rifles were found inside the mobile home. Dyer said two of those rifles were used in the shootout.


3:35 p.m.: Reedley police officer Javier Bejar was shot about 30 minutes into the gun battle, Dyer said. Bejar was positioned behind a patrol vehicle about 80 yards southeast of the mobile home, said Dyer, who added that Bejar is "not expected to survive."


3:33 p.m.: Rick Liles had told Diane Liles recently that he would "take out" officers before he went back to prison, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Rick Liles had become increasingly paranoid of late and would look out the window of his home to see if there was anyone outside, Liles' wife told investigators, according to Dyer.


3:15 p.m.: Law-enforcement officers braved gunfire in an effort to rescue Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier after he was felled by a rifle bullet, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said today.

Wahlenmaier was initially shot by gunman Rick Liles and lay within a patio area near Liles' mobile home in Minkler, Dyer said.

Dyer, in a news conference this afternoon, said Wahlenmaier was placed in the back of a squad car at the scene of Thursday's shooting. An ambulance met the car parkway and completed the transport to Community Regional Medical Center, where Wahlenmaier was pronounced dead.

At least 535 bullet holes -- entering and exiting -- were found in the mobile home in which shooter Rick Liles holed up and fired at the hundreds of law-enforcement officers who responded to the original shooting, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. Law officers fired at least 400 rounds into the trailer during the gun battle, Dyer said.

After SWAT teams were deployed, an Army rescue vehicle was used to draw near the trailer and rescue several officers who had been pinned down, Dyer said. After initial negotiations, Diane Liles, 42, came out of the trailer and was taken into custody, Dyer said. She told SWAT team members she believed her husband was dead inside. His body was found face-down in a bedroom, a handgun next to his head.


2:45 p.m.: A Joel Wahlenmaier Family Memorial Fund has been established. People can send contributions in care of the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association, 1360 Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93721.


1:28 p.m.: When Joel Wahlenmaier left for work Thursday, he told his wife matter-of-factly that he would be assisting in serving a warrant in Minkler. It was not something he seemed overly concerned about, said Barbie Turner, his sister-in law.

"So she knew about it," she said. "He left that morning, told her he loved her and that was it."

Within a few hours, Wahlenmaier was dead, shot in an ambush by a gunman suspected of arson and a Monday night shooting that grazed a neighbor.

The gunman, believed to be Ricky Liles, 51, also shot a Reedley police officer and injured a second sheriff's deputy Thursday before taking his own life.

Wahlenmaier, 49, was a 12-year veteran of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, a job Turner said "he loved."

"You could just tell when he talked about it or when he saw one of his deputy friends," she said. "He was close with everyone he worked with."

But the work he did, which included homicide investigations, such as the killing of a Kerman couple in their home last summer, always remained at the office, she said.

"I never saw him bring it home," Turner said. "He was always happy, kind, a good person. ... We probably didn't know the half of what he went through [in his job]."

Wahlenmaier enjoyed the outdoors. He hunted, and he enjoyed skiing and water skiing. He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Bev, a daughter, Amy, 24, and a son, Austin, 21, all of Fresno. Turner said Bev Wahlenmaier was glad Amy and Austin were not young children when he died, so knew their father well, along with the type of life he led.

"She is still very sad they lost their dad, but she is grateful they had that much time with him and they can relay that to their kids," she said.

She said the family has questions about how the incident unfolded, but they also are relieved that suspected shooter Ricky Liles "can't hurt anybody else."

The family had plans to go to Disneyland in June for Joel Wahlenmaier 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Bev Wahlenmaier's parents. "I don't know how we are going to handle that," Turner said.


11:14 a.m.: Flags at county government buildings in Fresno and Tulare counties are flying at half-staff today in honor of Fresno County sheriff's deputy Joel Wahlenmaier.

The lowered flags also honor Reedley police officer Javier Bejar, who is in critical condition and on life support at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

"We share the sorrow of our friends in law enforcement in Fresno County and the city of Reedley," Steve Worthley, chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement issued today. "This is a terrible tragedy that affects our whole region. Out thoughts today are with the families of the fallen officer, and with the families of the others that were injured in the line of duty while protecting us all."


10:30 a.m.: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement today on the Fresno County deputy's death:

"Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier was a dedicated officer who committed his life to protecting his community, always putting the safety of others above his own. Maria and I are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of such an admirable Californian. We send our thoughts and prayers to Joel's family, friends and fellow officers during this very difficult time."

In Wahlenmaier's honor, flags at the Capitol in Sacramento will be flown at half-staff.


9:02 a.m.: The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has identified the two deputies shot Thursday in Minkler.

Slain was Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier, 49, a detective who investigated homicides and other violent crimes.

Deputy Mark Harris, 48, was injured. He has been with the Sheriff's Office since February 1998.

Wahlenmaier was hired in June 1998 and promoted to Deputy IV in September 2005. Wahlenmaier was a graduate of Fresno High School. He attended Reedley College, Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno.

He worked in various assignments throughout his career, including court services and property detectives, and he was a field training officer, a school resource officer and a member of the search-and-rescue team.

Wahlenmaier is survived by his wife, Bev; a daughter, Amy, 24; a son Austin, 21; and his parents, all of Fresno.

A trust fund account in Wahlenmaier’s name is being set up for those wishing to donate, according to the Sheriff's Office. Details will be released later.


8:50 a.m.: The Fresno Police Department, which is leading the shooting investigation, announced it will hold a news conference in the late morning or early afternoon. The department does not expect to confirm the name of the suspect or the shooting victims, spokesman Jeff Cardinale said.


8:30 a.m.: The investigation into the shooting continued this morning in Minkler. A Reedley police car believed to be the one used by the officer shot in the incident remains at the scene.


11 p.m. Thursday: A gunman killed a detective and wounded two other officers east of Sanger on Thursday, prompting a seven-hour standoff that ended when authorities found the suspect dead inside a mobile home.

The shootout drew hundreds of armor-clad officers from Fresno, Clovis and other Valley police agencies flooding into the tiny community of Minkler. Authorities set up roadblocks on Highway 180, cleared the local airspace, locked down a nearby school and evacuated residents.

One of the wounded men was Reedley police officer Javier Bejar, about 28. Bejar was on "non-recoverable life support," said Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims did not name the two victims from her department, including the veteran detective who died. She said the injured deputy was in stable condition and is expected to recover.

The slain detective was reported to have been shot in the side. Bejar suffered a head wound. The other deputy had a shoulder wound. Both injured men were at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

The suspect is Ricky Liles, 51, of Minkler, according to property records, neighbors and one local official. Sheriff's officials would not confirm his identity.

The suspect's body was discovered about 5 p.m. inside the mobile home where the incident took place. A woman, believed to be Liles' wife, had emerged from the home about one hour earlier and was being questioned by the Fresno Police Department, which is investigating the incident at the sheriff's request.

Mims said she did not know whether the man shot himself or died during the exchange of gunfire with officers.

Volatile situation

The scene Thursday morning in the historic rural enclave was dangerous and chaotic.

Mims said the incident began about 9:40 a.m. when her detectives joined Cal Fire officials to serve a search warrant on a mobile home at 18276 Kings Canyon Road, between Reed and Lone Oak avenues.

Mary Novack, manager of the Minkler Grocery across from the scene, said she saw four cars with Cal Fire officers and sheriff's deputies roll up to the home.

Officers went to the door and knocked, but got no answer, Novack said. Over a loudspeaker, they ordered the occupants to come out, but no one did. They then broke down the door.

Novack said she heard gunshots. The officers then backed away and "everyone in the world showed up" as law enforcement officers from many Valley agencies flooded the scene, Novack said. She said she saw an officer on the ground who was later put into an ambulance.

Another witness, Bret McArron from Selma, said he heard officers fire 150 to 200 rounds into the home before he was ordered out of the area.

About 200 officers from nearly a dozen agencies responded to the shooting. An armored vehicle was also seen going to the scene and a California Highway Patrol airplane was called in. Highway 180 was closed between Piedra Road and Frankwood Avenue.

Mims said shots were fired from inside the home as deputies tried to serve the warrant, which was connected to investigations into a recent series of reported arsons and shooting incidents. She said Bejar was hit in a subsequent exchange of fire after he and many others came to provide backup.

Mims announced the detective's death in midafternoon.

"This morning, I had to deliver the message that no law enforcement leader wants to deliver, and that was to a wife of a deputy sheriff that her husband had been killed in the line of duty," Mims said.

Trouble brewing

Chuck Minkler, whose family founded the tiny community in 1892, said he rented the home to a man named Rickey Ray Liles. He said Liles lived there with his wife, Diane, and several small dogs. Minkler said there have been eight or nine fires on his 20-acre property over the past six months. They damaged a two-story storage structure and a small home.

There have also been reports of shots fired into the Minkler store and into his sister's home earlier this week, Minkler said.

"The fires got more frequent over the past six months and we were growing more concerned about my sister," he said.

The sister, Sally Minkler, was grazed in the back after shots were fired in "rapid succession" at her home, which neighbors said is adjacent to the home where Liles resides.

Minkler said he did not know whether Liles was responsible for any of the incidents.

"I got along with him. When there was anything that had to be corrected, I would talk to him and that's the way it worked," Chuck Minkler said. "There may have been some other issues, but not to do with me."

Liles and his wife had worked for a local security company, he said. State records showed a firearms permit for a man with Liles' name was canceled last August, but that the same person had a valid guard license.

Another neighbor said the suspect "has really been having it out" with the Minkler family. The Minklers had not been telling anyone about the situation because they knew the warrant was coming, the neighbor said.

School locked down

Centerville Elementary School was placed on lockdown when deputies contacted the school shortly after the shooting occurred, said Marcus Johnson, Sanger Unified School District superintendent.

"It's a preventative measure," Johnson said, noting that the school is more than a mile from Minkler.

Mims said neighbors were also evacuated around the home where the incident took place.

At Community Regional Medical Center, law enforcement officers and public officials waited to learn the status of the deputies who were shot.

Supervisor Judy Case said a room had been set up for them in the hospital. Sheriff's deputies outside were emotional.

"This is a really awful situation," Case said from the hospital waiting room. "Something you never want to see happen."

Supervisor Henry R. Perea also went to the hospital when he learned he knew one of the deputies, according to his staff.

Mims and a sheriff's chaplain also visited the emergency room.

Highway 180 will remain closed between Piedra, Reed, and Frankwood avenues until further notice.

Staff writers Jim Guy, Marc Benjamin, Tracy Correa, Chris Collins, Eddie Jimenez, Mark Grossi, Paula Lloyd and Brad Branan contributed to this report.

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