Crime

Authorities identify woman fatally shot by deputy in Santa Nella

Authorities have identified the woman fatally shot by a deputy early Tuesday as a 50-year-old military veteran.

According to Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Delray Shelton, Siolosega Velega-Nuufolau was shot after waving a kitchen knife “in a threatening and aggressive manner” at the deputy.

Authorities were called to the scene in the 29000 block of Del Sol Court by a neighbor, who reported that Velega-Nuufolau was in the neighbor’s driveway, screaming for someone to call 911 at about 12:30 a.m. It is not clear why she wanted authorities called.

Velega-Nuufolau had a knife and apparently charged at the deputy, Sheriff Vern Warnke said.

The deputy fired his weapon. Velega-Nuufolau was pronounced dead at the scene, Warnke said. The deputy suffered a minor injury to his hand when he fell; it is not yet clear if he fell before or after the shooting.

The deputy’s name was not released, but Shelton said he is an eight-year veteran assigned to the Los Banos substation who previously served as a detective. He has been placed on administrative leave, standard practice for a law enforcement officer involved in a shooting.

Shelton said Velega-Nuufolau was a veteran who had a history of mental problems and several run-ins with the law. He did not say in which branch of the military she served.

Most recently, Velega-Nuufolau was involved in a Sept. 22 incident in which she brandished two knives at deputies before surrendering after a 90-minute standoff.

Tuesday morning after the incident, vehicles and houses in the typically quiet neighborhood were peppered with bullet holes. A prayer candle and flowers were set up by a fire hydrant near where Velega-Nuufolau died from her injuries. Blood still lingered in the gutter.

Neighbors in the cul de sac awoke early Tuesday to gunfire and reported hearing six to eight gunshots, but guessed many more were fired. They said Velega-Nuufolau suffered from bipolar disorder, and her two young sons played with other children in the neighborhood.

After hearing the gun shots, Jorge Alvarez looked outside his window and saw Velega-Nuufolau’s body in the street. Velega-Nuufolau’s husband also was lying on the ground, Alvarez said.

Alvarez and his wife, Janet, live next door to Velega-Nuufolau. The Alvarez family moved to Santa Nella from San Jose about a year ago. They moved from a neighborhood with a lot of police activity, but they never experienced anything like what unfolded in Del Sol Court.

Janet awoke Tuesday from the sound of gunfire. She said it sounded so close she thought it was in her back yard. The first thing she did was check to make sure her daughters were safe in their beds.

The Alvarezes described Velega-Nuufolau and her husband as a couple who mostly kept to themselves and would say hello in passing. They sometimes would hear the couple fighting late at night or the children crying. Janet said from time to time she saw Velega-Nuufolau helping out at Romero Elementary School where her two sons attended.

Deputies were familiar with Velega-Nuufolau, Jorge Alvarez said. During the September incident, she charged deputies with two large kitchen knives, he said. Deputies repeatedly asked her to drop the weapons, and when she refused, they used bean bag rounds to subdue her. She was held in Merced County Jail for two weeks.

“They (deputies) had a lot of hours and patience with her,” Alvarez said. “She was like a ticking bomb. You just never know. She needed help.”

This is the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Merced County this year.

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