Masked gunmen stormed two Santa Rosa-area homes early Thursday, killing one man and wounding another in a pair of related shootings that touched off a daylong scramble by law enforcement across two counties, leading to the arrest of three suspects in Vallejo after a vehicle pursuit and the arrest of a fourth man at a Santa Rosa motel Thursday evening.
A fifth suspect, a woman, was believed to be at-large in the Vallejo area after a tense, block-by-block search there following the vehicle chase.
The pair of Santa Rosa shootings, both before sunrise, and about two hours and 5 miles apart, involved a team of armed intruders, according to law enforcement and witnesses, who described seeing family members pistol-whipped and bound with tape amid repeated demands for cash.
“The suspects came into the homes demanding marijuana and money,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Crum said investigators knew of no connection Thursday between the two homes other than the early morning violence.
Deputies found evidence of pot cultivation and sales at one of the homes, down a dead-end lane off Todd Road, where a male resident was shot dead and guns were stolen from the house, according to Crum.
Authorities did not release the names of the three men arrested in Vallejo or the man arrested by sheriff’s investigators at the Motel 6 Santa Rosa on Cleveland Avenue. Crum did not say why the names were withheld.
In the first shooting, about 4:22 a.m. in a home on the 1900 block of Fulton Road, not far from the Northwest Prep Charter School on Piner Road, one man was shot in the arm, according to authorities and witnesses.
No evidence of drug operations or other illicit activity was found at the home, Crum said. It was unclear why the house was targeted, he said.
In the second incident, about 6:45 a.m. dispatchers took a 911 call reporting a man was shot multiple times after armed, masked men broke into the home. First responders performed CPR on the man but he died of his wounds inside his home, the Sheriff’s Office said. He was not identified Thursday.
Witnesses in the first shooting described a terrifying scene. Five masked intruders kicked in the front door, setting off an alarm system at the modest home and jolting awake the entire household — a married couple and their three children, ages 9, 14 and 18.
One of the masked suspects fired a gunshot into the ceiling and shoved the 18-year-old into a laundry room, tying her wrists together with duct tape. Then they started making demands.
“They were saying, ‘Where’s the money? I need the money!’” recalled her 14-year-old brother, who was then pistol-whipped in the head and his father shot in the arm. The intruders wore masks made with what looked like knit caps with holes cut out for the eyes, said a woman interviewed outside the home with her family Thursday afternoon. The masked intruders kept demanding cash, at one point shoving the 9-year-old daughter to the ground and hitting the 14-year-old boy twice in the head with a handgun, drawing blood, she said.
“He just said, ‘Get on the floor,’ and hit me, then hit me again,” the boy said.
The Press Democrat is not identifying the family members because one of the suspects remains at large and because the witnesses asked not to be named out of fear for their safety.
The 37-year-old Santa Rosa mother said they had no large sum of money in the house or anything else of significant value that might attract would-be robbers. Interviewed as they packed their things to leave for the safety of a relative’s home, she said her husband was shot in the arm as he tried to intervene.
“We have no idea why this happened to us,” the woman said.
After her husband was shot, the suspects fled, apparently empty handed. The 42-year-old man was rushed to the hospital, and his wife said he was faring well.
“We are not a family of violence, so we don’t know why this happened to us,” she said.
Two and a half hours later, the 911 call came about the shooting near Todd Road, on Melcon Lane, at a gated home at the end of a quarter-mile road flanked by horse stables to the east and the campus of a Sikh temple to the west.
Sheriff’s officials did not specify how many times the male victim there was shot, the type of weapons used in the crime or how many occupants were in the home at the time.
Someone had lodged a complaint with the Sonoma County permit department about the property in October, alleging it appeared there were unpermitted cargo containers, a greenhouse and cannabis cultivation on site, a county planning department spokeswoman said. County staff saw no marijuana on the property during an inspection in November. In January, a resident at the property applied for permits to legitimize the structures.
The suspects fled in a teal Astro van to Vallejo, where, about an hour later, after 8 a.m., their vehicle was spotted in a parking lot shared between a Denny’s Diner and a Motel 6 by a Sonoma County sheriff’s detective working another case, said Crum.
The detective called for backup. About 8:45 a.m., the van drove away and officers attempted to pull it over, prompting a brief pursuit, according to Crum.
The chase traversed Highway 37 and onto Mare Island, then circled back into the city until the van crashed into a car, which then hit a fire hydrant in front of a Couch Street church, Crum said. The first suspect was in custody by 8:53 a.m. and another two men were quickly apprehended. The guns reported stolen from the Melcon Lane home were recovered in the van, Crum said. He did not say how many weapons were recovered or provide a description of them.
The remaining two suspects, a man and a woman got away, fleeing on foot, and they evaded capture despite an hourslong search by about a dozen deputies from Sonoma County joined by Vallejo and CHP officers near Couch and Redwood streets.
By evening Thursday, the manhunt brought a swarm of sheriff’s officials to two motels on Cleveland Avenue in west Santa Rosa. There, authorities arrested the male suspect they believe evaded capture in Vallejo, according to Crum. He did not say how investigators knew the man had returned to Santa Rosa or how officers zeroed in on the hotels.
Three other men detained at the hotels were questioned and released.
One hotel resident said he was walking back from the store when he saw sheriff’s deputies chasing one person over a fence. James Leal said he was staying at the hotel while his house is being worked on.
“I heard them say, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!,” said Leal, 52, of Santa Rosa.
Leal said deputies then apprehended a number of people while searching the grounds and looking underneath cars.
Toward the back of the motel complex, sheriff’s investigators could be seen surveying the inside of a room.
Early in the day, outside the Melcon Lane home, which was shrouded by morning fog, deputies set up a crime scene and detectives discussed their investigation.
A sergeant went over to a few people tending to horses on the other side of a wire fence and asked them to keep their distance from the property line.
Just after 8:30 a.m., a few deputies left the property and raced in their vehicles east down Todd Road to Highway 101 with lights flashing and sirens blaring, en route to the SWAT operation in Vallejo.
By 1 p.m., just one deputy stood guard outside the crime scene while detectives secured a search warrant for the property.
On the other end of the road a few men talked quietly in a driveway near the stables. A man identified himself as the son of the shooting victim.
“It was my old man,” he said, declining further comment.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to clarify the type of county permit sought by a resident on Melcon Lane.