PASO ROBLES, Calif. - A San Luis Obispo County sheriff's deputy is in serious but stable condition after a shooting early Wednesday morning in downtown Paso Robles and authorities are investigating a homicide believed to be connected to the incident.
The gunfire started Wednesday around 3:15 a.m. near the Paso Robles Police Station on 10th Street.
Police said they called for assistance from nearby law enforcement agencies.
Shots began to ring out in the direction of police cars in downtown Paso.
About an hour after the initial gunshots were heard, one of the responding deputies was shot in the face while searching the area for the suspect. The deputy's partner returned fire while attempting to render aid to the injured deputy.
The injured deputy was taken to the hospital with the help of Paso Robles firefighters. He was then transported by air to a trauma center outside of our area for treatment. He is currently listed in serious but stable condition.
"We had an unprovoked attack on local law enforcement, and in my opinion the act of a coward," San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said.
Search for the Suspect
Statements on the Sheriff's Department Twitter asked residents to "shelter in place" near downtown while the search continued for an armed man.
Deputies were joined by the California Highway Patrol in the search.
At around 2 p.m., the search was suspended but downtown Paso Robles remained closed.
The suspect has been identified as 26-year-old Mason James Lira, a transient from the Monterey area.
Lira is considered armed and dangerous
No arrests have been made at this time. Law enforcement said they are confident that the shooter is no longer in the area, which allowed for the shelter-in-place order to be lifted.
Paso Robles police are asking anyone who may have security footage of the area to turn it in to assist with the investigation.
While searching the area for the shooter, dispatch received a call about a body near the Amtrak station at 8th Street and Pine Street.
Officers arrived and found a deceased man who was shot in the back of the head.
Sheriff's Coroner Investigators determined the cause of death to be a homicide. The victim was was shot in the head at close proximity, the sheriff's department said.
Investigators believe the homicide is related to the shooting. The connection to the shooting is unclear at this time.
The victim was identified as a 58-year-old transient who may have been camping in the area overnight. He was shot at close range, authorities said.
Dozens of police are combing through evidence at both crime scenes. The are also processing evidence at five different locations throughout downtown Paso Robles.
FBI is assisting the Paso Robles Police Department and the SLO Sheriff's Office.
Parkinson worries the shooter's motivation could be tied to the nation's debate over police enforcement right now.
"That's kind of been the general theme floating around the nation right now," said Parkinson. "This rise of anti-law enforcement coalition, it seems."
Sheriff Parkinson called the attack an ambush and described it as "an act of a coward."
Paso Robles School district canceled student meal distribution due to the active shooter situation out of an abundance of caution.
RACE Matters SLO County released a statement regarding the shooting and said they were saddened by the shooting. The full statement can be read here.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said on Twitter that he hopes the shooter is "apprehended and brought to justice."
Both Congressman Salud Carbajal and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham extended their best wishes to deputy and hoped for a speedy recovery.
With no one in custody, Paso Robles resident Zachary Galusha is concerned. "Scary," Galusha said. "I don't know what he plans on doing next or where he plans on going."
Atascadero resident Liane Rachel Ison worries about officers being targeted.
"I have lots of prayers with him and his family in that he does get a safe, quick recovery," Ison said.
Another Paso Robles resident said the community will get through this, adding she'll feel much more comfortable when the shooter is off the street.
"It's a little worrisome," Richae Davis said. "Just a small community like this, something happening, especially a Sheriff (Deputy) getting shot and some more bodies popping up, it's very scary."
Anyone with information regarding the shooting or the body recovered is urged to contact the Paso Robles Police Department.