The Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who fired the shots that killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez last week is a firearms expert, Iraq War veteran and prolific contributor to magazines and online forums dealing with guns and police use of force.
The Sheriff's Office confirmed Sunday that Deputy Erick Gelhaus, 48, fired the shots. A 24-year veteran of the office, Gelhaus has been a frequent advocate in his writing for a prepared, aggressive stance in law enforcement, a profession he has described as a "calling" and likened to a "contact sport."
In a 2008 article he wrote for S.W.A.T. Magazine about strategies for surviving an ambush in the "kill zone," Gelhaus began by describing the "nanoseconds (that) seem like minutes as you scramble to react while simultaneously thinking about your children and spouse."
Sheriff's officials had previously declined to release the deputy's name, citing threats to his safety.
Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s said the office was still dealing with those threats and would, if necessary, take measures to protect Gelhaus. He said the decision to confirm the deputy's name was based on an awareness that it was starting to circulate publicly.
Gelhaus joined the Sheriff's Office in 1989 and is one of its two dozen field training officers -- a group in charge of training newly hired and newly minted deputies -- in addition to being a firearms instructor and range master with special training in firearms safety and instruction.
He has testified in court as an expert on gangs and narcotics, according to a colleague. In 2004, he was awarded the office's Medal of Valor for pulling occupants of a burning vehicle to safety.
Due?s on Sunday described Gelhaus as a "solid employee" and proven instructor among the office's 275 deputies and roughly 250 correctional officers.
Gelhaus "has a lot of credibility in the department," said a ranking Sheriff's Office veteran, noting his years in the military and experience vetting new employees. Like others interviewed last week, he would speak only on condition of anonymity because the Sheriff's Office command staff asked employees not to talk to the media about the investigation.
On Tuesday, Gelhaus was with a deputy he had supervised for a month, a new hire with 11 years of experience. Just after 3:14 p.m., they drove up behind Lopez about a half-mile north of the boy's Moorland Avenue home on the southwestern outskirts of Santa Rosa.
Ten seconds later, after the deputies had reported a suspicious person to dispatchers, radioed for backup and issued orders to the boy to drop his weapon, according to Santa Rosa police, Gelhaus opened fire when he saw Lopez -- his back to the deputies -- begin to turn toward him, the barrel of the BB gun rising.
The deputy mistook the BB gun for an assault rifle, investigators said.
Gelhaus fired eight rounds, striking the boy seven times, investigators said. Two shots were fatal, an autopsy determined.
His partner, the trainee, did not fire his weapon, investigators said. Gelhaus and the other deputy were placed on paid administrative leave.
Gelhaus has not returned repeated calls for comment.
Asked about how he is coping, Due?s said Gelhaus is "doing as best as can be expected."
Sheriff's officials have declined to name the second deputy, citing his partial role as a "witness" in the incident and saying they did not want to interfere with the local investigation being led by Santa Rosa police.
The FBI also is looking into the shooting.
Gelhaus' involvement caused ripples as word leaked out last week among the sheriff's sworn personnel.
"Him of all people . . . that was my first thought," said another ranking sheriff's deputy. "He's a range master; he's respected; he's a go-to guy."
He noted the challenge of distinguishing in a moment's flash a BB gun -- described by police as a "replica AK-47 assault-style rifle" -- with the real thing.
Sheriff Steve Freitas did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.
Gelhaus' decision to fire at Lopez has sparked intense criticism of law enforcement and touched off a debate about whether the deputy was right to feel threatened and fire his weapon.
"We don't know the reason why they killed him; they should know if a gun is real," said Katia Ontiveros, 18, one of hundreds of local residents who joined protests and vigils last week in the shooting's aftermath.
But Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said officers are typically justified in the use of deadly force when they sincerely believe lives are at stake.
If the teen was raising the barrel of the gun toward officers, they had little choice about firing, Alpert told the Associated Press.