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Father says suspect in California deputy’s shooting has mental illness

The father of a man suspected of opening fire at a California police station — wounding a deputy with a shot to the face and killing a transient man in a separate shooting — said his son has mental illnesses and refuses to take medication but has no particular animus toward law enforcement.

As hundreds of police officers searched Thursday for Mason James Lira, his father said his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Jose Lira said his son, who is 26, often thinks he is a special agent or a soldier and may believe he is under attack or in a war zone.

Although authorities have described the attack on the Paso Robles police station as an ambush, his father thinks it might have been a suicide attempt.

“He lives in a fantasy world,” Jose Lira told The Associated Press. “He doesn’t have a beef with the police.”

‘Full-on, full-scale effort’

Authorities have been hunting for Lira, saying he shot at the downtown Paso Robles Police Department before dawn Wednesday. Officials later discovered the body of a man who had been shot in the head at close range.

“It’s a wide-ranging, full-on, full-scale effort,” said Tony Cipolla, spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo County sheriff.

The search intensified Thursday in Paso Robles, a tourist destination in California’s central coast wine region. Police closed parts of a freeway and used flash-bangs while searching apartments.

Investigators with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office and Paso Robles Police Department investigate a homicide near the Union Pacific railroad tracks north of the train station in downtown Paso Robles, Calif., on Wednesday. (David Middlecamp/The Tribune of San Luis Obispo via AP)

Jose Lira said he last spoke to his son about two months ago, when he was threatened by him and became belligerent.

“I slept with a gun loaded under my pillow last night,” he said. “I’m afraid of him, too.”

Separate attack further north

The attack came just five days after law enforcement officers were ambushed farther north in the community of Ben Lomond. There is no indication the shootings are related.

Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, was killed and another deputy injured Saturday in an attack by an Air Force sergeant armed with homemade bombs, an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, authorities said. Sheriff Jim Hart said the suspect, Steven Carrillo, was intent on killing officers.

Carrillo, 32, was arrested and the FBI is investigating whether he has links to the killing of a federal security officer outside the U.S. courthouse in Oakland during a protest against police brutality on May 29. A white van was spotted at both attacks.

Prosecutors on Thursday filed 19 charges against Carrillo, who faces life in prison if convicted. He is accused of killing Gutzwiller and attempting to kill four other officers, as well as possessing destructive devices and the components to make others. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Homeless since 17, father says

In Paso Robles, there were no events that could have triggered the violence, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said. Investigators didn’t know if the attack was connected to anger over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers, he said.

Jose Lira said his son has been homeless since he was 17 and in and out of jails and mental health facilities. He said he doubts his son has any connection to the Santa Cruz and Oakland killings since he prefers to be alone.

“He doesn’t trust anybody. He’s always by himself,” he said.

Jose Lira first spoke to the Visalia Times Delta.

Wounded deputy has good prognosis

A gas station clerk reported seeing Lira around 2 a.m. Thursday when he came in to buy an energy drink, the TV station KSBY reported. The clerk said Lira was sweaty, exhausted and mumbling to himself, but did not do anything threatening.

The events started unfolding around 4 a.m. Wednesday, when Lira allegedly fired at police cars as they entered downtown Paso Robles.

Two sheriff’s deputies heard gunshots but didn’t see the attacker until they were outside their patrol car and gunfire targeted them. One was hit in the head. His partner fired back and dragged the deputy behind a police car. The wounded deputy, Nicholas Dreyfus, 28, had a good prognosis Thursday after surgery.

While officers searched for Lira, they received a report of a body near a train station and found a 58-year-old man shot to death on the tracks. He appeared to be a transient who was camping out overnight. It wasn’t immediately clear when he was shot.

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