Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and officials from the Santa Rosa Police Department have answered a number of questions so far about the tragic killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
They've reported how two so-far-unidentified sheriff's deputies were on routine patrol when they spotted Lopez walking Tuesday afternoon on Moorland Avenue, carrying what looked like an AK-47-style assault rifle. They've talked about how the deputies ordered the young man to drop his weapon before one deputy fired — eight rounds, striking him seven times.
And Freitas in particular has correctly noted how the resulting death of this popular student was a "tragedy on many levels."
But what they haven't offered is an explanation of why an adolescent boy who was walking to a friend's house carrying a borrowed airsoft rifle one afternoon is now dead.
How is it that so many things were missed?
One can understand how the deputies could have mistaken the airsoft rifle the youth was carrying for a real assault weapon, especially given that the plastic gun was missing the requisite orange tip of a replica firearm. As was obvious during a Wednesday news conference when a real AK-47 was held up with this pellet gun, it's hard to tell the difference.
Perhaps it's also understandable how the deputies involved could not tell that this suspicious individual, clad in a blue hoodie sweatshirt and shorts, was a juvenile.
One might also understand how the deputy who fired, as a Santa Rosa Police Department statement noted, "feared for his safety, the safety of his partner and the safety of the community members in the area" when the suspect did not respond to orders to "put the gun down" and began to turn toward them.
But how does one explain all of these misunderstandings — the type of gun, the age of the suspect, the intent — all missed opportunities to resolve this situation peacefully?
There are many other questions that need answering. Did the deputies identify themselves as they called out to Andy Lopez? Did the young man have his hoodie on at the time? Did he have earbuds on, and was he listening to something that might have prevented him from hearing the warning? Most important, what was it about the way he turned that the deputies found so threatening?
Given the prevalence of gun violence today, no explanation is required about why the deputies might be on edge. Just a day earlier, a seventh-grader in Nevada fatally shot a teacher and wounded two other students before turning a semi-automatic handgun on himself in a schoolyard rampage. That was just the latest in a string of incidents that include the horrific shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December.
If blame is to be assigned, certainly a good portion belongs to those who design, sell and purchase these weapons that are made to look so much like assault weapons that even well-trained law enforcement officials have are a hard time distinguishing them in moments of life or death.
But, at this point, we're not looking to assign blame. We, like so many, are just looking for an explanation.
We're comforted by the promises of the sheriff that an internal investigation into the fatal encounter will be thorough and transparent. We just hope this, as well as an investigation overseen by Santa Rosa Police Department, will be swift as well.