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'We just ran and didn't look back.' Witnesses describe shooting at Nipomo gas station

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Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-22 01:18:27-04

A suspected gunman in Nipomo is dead after a confrontation with law enforcement officers.

At around 11:15 a.m. Friday, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office received reports of shots fired near the Vons gas station parking lot.

Witnesses who were across the street at Starbucks ran for cover as it quickly became an active shooter situation.

"I quickly yelled, 'there's a gun and everyone get inside!' and we all started running towards the entrance," said Leighanna Groshart.

"We just ran and didn't look back," said Elda Paola Cisneros.

Shots were fired both outside and inside the Vons gas station at West Tefft Street and Mary Avenue.

Sheriff's officials said the suspect was armed with a handgun.

"We are not exactly sure why at this time and we are not sure exactly what his motivation was," said Tony Cipolla, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Witnesses said the shooter fired multiple rounds after some sort of altercation.

"I saw a man standing right in front of the entrance to the Vons store and he was pointing a gun and I heard numerous more shots," Cisneros said.

"[The gunman] goes to his vehicle, a silver SUV, pulls out a handgun and starts shooting at customers pumping gas," said Richard Malvarose, who witnessed the shooting from the Miner's ACE hardware store.

A bullet nearly missed him.

"A bullet whizzed right by my head. It's probably still out in the parking lot somewhere," Malvarose said.

"We had reports that the shooter was firing indiscriminately throughout this area," Cipolla said. "Random objects. Random people."

Malvarose made one of the initial 911 calls at first to report a man attempting to break into the gas station convenience store, but then he heard shots fired while on the phone with dispatch.

A CAL FIRE medic engine was also shot three times as paramedics responded to a nearby medical call.

Those firefighters were uninjured, according to officials.

"Adrenaline kicked in, it drew my attention and came out and made sure everyone was staying inside," said Chris Wilson, who witnessed the shootings.

Wilson heard what he said was seven to eight shots.

He said the gunman looked distraught.

"The [gunman] tried to high-jack a vehicle from an elderly lady, the lady refused and he was irate," Wilson said.

Sheriff's officials say they are now looking for the driver of that black four-door hatchback.

"We don't know if he was trying to carjack that individual or not," Cipolla said.

The threat ended in the gas station parking lot after deputies with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office and officers with the California Highway Patrol engaged with the suspect and shot him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"[The gunman] raised his firearm and the sheriff's deputy raised this rifle and put two to three rounds in him," Wilson said.

For about two hours, about a dozen people sheltered in a back room of the Starbucks.

"Us adults were shaken. The kids were crying," Cisneros said.

"Very anxious. I'm just glad that everybody is safe," Groshart added.

The sheriff's office said no one else was struck by the gunfire.

The suspect is not being identified at this point until his family is notified.

Sheriff's officials are asking anyone who witnessed the shooting or who may have video of the incident to contact them at (805) 781-4500.