PORTERVILLE -- Police SWAT officers who surrounded a homicide suspect as he sat in a car near a Porterville high school Thursday morning discovered he had shot himself.
The man's mother and brother were arrested by police after officers learned they had allegedly assisted the man in avoiding arrest.
Detectives believe 29-year-old Porterville resident Bobby Joe Suggs is responsible for the Wednesday murder of Amber Nicole Zavala, 23, who was found dead at her apartment on the 300 block of North Capitola Court, said Porterville police Lt. Chris Dempsie.
Police learned of Zavala's killing Wednesday, after people called police to report that Suggs had been talking about murdering someone, Dempsie said. Zavala's body was discovered about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Although an exact cause of death hasn't been determined, trauma to the body indicated she may have been strangled, Dempsie said.
Officers tried calling Suggs on his cell phone throughout the night Wednesday but didn't get a response.
They learned at 8 a.m. Thursday that Suggs was hiding near an orange orchard on the side of a hill near the intersection of Hillcrest Street and Morton Avenue, just north of Granite Hills High School, Dempsie said.
"We got a call that he was hiding near the orange orchard and making suicidal statements," he said.
Granite Hills High School was placed on lockdown for about four hours Thursday as police SWAT officers surrounded the car Suggs was in. A helicopter from the Kern County Sheriff's Department was called in to try to observe Suggs, but the pilots didn't see any movement, Dempsie said.
SWAT officers approached the car and found Suggs inside, dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, Dempsie said.
Officers don't know exactly when Suggs shot himself, but he said others had contact with him up until about 8 a.m. by phone.
Dempsie said Suggs and Zavala had a romantic relationship, but he wasn't sure of the extent of that relationship and whether they were still together at the time of the killing.
Joe Iness, who lives in the same apartment complex as Zavala, said neighbors didn't hear or see anything suspicious Wednesday.
But others who lived in the complex said they had heard Zavala arguing loudly with a man they believed to be Suggs.
Dempsie said they are investigating the relationship between Suggs and Zavala, along with information that Suggs fought professionally in mixed martial arts at a local casino. He said officials may run toxicological tests on Suggs' body.
Police also arrested Suggs' mother, 48-year-old Patsy Suggs, and his brother, 32-year-old Jesse Suggs, on charges of helping Suggs evade arrest after learning they were aware of the killing and provided Bobby Joe Suggs with transportation, Dempsie said. Both were booked into the Tulare County Jail.
He said the two allegedly knew about Zavala's death for at least four hours without reporting it to police. They also gave Suggs a car to drive because police were looking for his, Dempsie said.