San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the death of Paso Robles shooting suspect Mason James Lira on Thursday “was not a happy ending,” and investigators now have a tremendous amount of work to do as they try to determine a motive behind Lira’s actions.
A Paso Robles resident was killed and four law enforcement officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds over the two-day shooting spree.
Lira, 26, who was described as a transient from the Monterey area, was killed in an exchange of gunfire with officers late Thursday afternoon in a vineyard in the area of Ramada Drive and Highway 46 West.
Sheriff Parkinson said Lira was believed to be hiding in the Salinas Riverbed adjacent to that area, and as law enforcement began to move officers in for a planned search, Lira started firing at them.
An Arroyo Grande Police Sergeant was shot in the leg and taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Parkinson said more resources were called to the area and Lira was spotted climbing up an embankment. He reportedly ran into the vineyard and exchanged fire with officers.
Two officers with the California Highway Patrol and Kings County Sheriff’s Office were hit and taken to the hospital for what are described as non-life-threatening injuries.
Lira was also shot and killed. Parkinson said he was found to be in possession of two loaded handguns believed stolen in a commercial burglary in San Luis Obispo earlier in the week.
Parkinson said Lira was also carrying a box of ammunition and more ammunition was found in a crawl space beneath the movie theater in downtown Paso Robles where it appears he had been camping.
A repairman discovered that campsite on Thursday, according to Parkinson, and it was examined by an FBI team. Several items of evidence linked to Lira were reportedly recovered.
Authorities believe Lira had been staying at that location for the past several days and may have been in the area for up to a week. He was released from jail in Monterey County on June 3, after serving time for arrests in April and May. He had been seen going in and out of businesses in downtown Paso Robles for several days.
His first violent encounter with local police was early Wednesday morning. At about 3:15 a.m., Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis said a dispatcher monitoring the police department’s security cameras saw a suspicious person walking around the building and then start shooting.
Paso Robles police called for help from other agencies, including the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Parkinson said two sheriff’s deputies who arrived at the scene together came under fire at 4:19 a.m. and one of the deputies was shot in the face. The second deputy reportedly returned fire at the shooter.
The injured deputy, identified Thursday as Nicholas Dreyfus, was flown to a trauma center in another county in serious condition. He has undergone surgery and authorities say his prognosis is good.
Dreyfus, 28, has worked for the Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years and is assigned to the North County Sheriff’s Station in Templeton.
Following the shooting, the downtown area was locked down and a shelter-in-place order issued as law enforcement officials searched for the shooter.
At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, police lifted the shelter-in-place order but the downtown area remained on lockdown as officers continued to process at least five different locations that were considered part of the crime scene.
Later in the evening, the search for Lira again ramped up after authorities said more shots were fired between 2nd and 3rd streets in Paso Robles.
Officers could be seen and heard using flash bangs during a search of the empty Grandview Apartments along the 200 block of Spring Street, and the northbound Highway 101 Spring Street offramp was closed to traffic.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday, Lira was spotted at a convenience store in the 1800 block of Ramada Drive. The clerk described him as sweaty and exhausted and said Lira was mumbling to himself. He said Lira bought an energy drink and left the store. The clerk called 911 and officers responded to the area but were unable to locate the suspect.
Sheriff Parkinson said resources from multiple agencies and neighboring counties were called to assist and a plan was formulated to systematically search the nearby riverbed for Lira in the morning.
Chief Lewis said it was likely Lira’s shooting spree began with the killing of a homeless Paso Robles man whose body was found on the train tracks in the area of 8th and Pine streets Wednesday morning.
He was reportedly shot in the back of the head in what Lewis said appeared to be an unprovoked attack.
The motive behind the killing is unknown at this time, but Sheriff Parkinson said he believes the ambush on the police station was planned. He said it happened over an hour-and-a-half and that the shooter continued to move around, targeting officers arriving at and coming out of the police station.
Parkinson described the shooter’s movements as purposeful and tactical and said investigators would look into whether Lira had any military experience.