Suhr: St. Luke’s gunman never fired
San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr Friday said the man fatally shot by police Wednesday as he stood with a shotgun on top of a building in the Mission District does not appear to have fired any shots prior to his death.
The suspect, identified by the San Francisco medical examiner’s office as 25-year-old San Jose resident Javier Lopez Garcia, was fatally shot by San Francisco police officers at the site of California Pacific Medical Center’s St. Luke’s campus at 3555 Cesar Chavez St., which is currently under construction.
Speaking Friday at a town hall called to discuss the police shooting, Suhr said multiple eyewitnesses told homicide investigators at the construction site that Garcia was exclaiming as he walked through the site to the sixth floor that “he just wanted to die.” Garcia advised the witnesses that they should call the police and alert the news media, Suhr said.
Garcia is alleged to have stolen the shotgun from a San Bruno sporting goods store shortly before the San Francisco incident.
A note used in the robbery of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store at 855 El Camino Real in San Bruno around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday indicated that Garcia wanted a specific shotgun. The note threatened to shoot anyone who made any sudden movements.
“I need a 12 gauge marine finish tactical pump shotgun don’t ask who what when where why the only difference between me and you is I’m not afraid to get shot.”
Suhr said the weapon Garcia used while carrying out the robbery in San Bruno was later determined to be an airsoft pistol that did not shoot bullets.
Garcia, who has numerous tattoos on his face, was wearing a black sweatshirt, white overalls and a baseball cap when police spotted him at the construction site following reports from construction workers at about 4:15 p.m. of a man with multiple firearms.
Suhr Friday said there were reports that Garcia had been shooting and officers heard what they believed to be gunshots as they arrived at the scene, but there were no spent casings from the shotgun found at the crime scene:
“We don’t know that he fired any shots.”
The chief said that ever since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, law enforcement around the United States and in San Francisco have trained “to engage an active threat to prevent further loss of life or serious injury in all active shooter situations. This was that situation.” In the moments prior to his death, Garcia reportedly roamed through the construction site, where roughly 30 construction workers were trapped, while brandishing two firearms, according to Suhr.
Officers located Garcia on top of a construction elevator armed with what was later determined to be a pistol-grip silver shotgun and the airsoft pistol. Garcia had the shotgun in a shooting position and was moving it from side to side, Suhr said:
“Officers believed the suspect to be targeting civilians and police.”
Suhr said officers repeatedly identified themselves and instructed Garcia to drop the firearms, but he didn’t comply and continued to point the weapon at the hospital, police and civilians.
Three officers then fired five shots from the ground floor up to the sixth floor, striking Garcia on top of the elevator, Suhr said.
The chief said two officers with rifles each fired one shot and that a third officer fired three shots from a pistol. He said the department believes the fatal shot was fired from one of the rifles.
The SFPD SWAT team then deployed distraction devices that make a loud noise in order to determine whether Garcia was responsive, but he was dead, Suhr said.
At about 4:45 p.m. San Francisco police received word from San Bruno police that Garcia matched the suspect description of an armed robbery at the sporting goods store in San Bruno less than an hour prior, Suhr said.
San Bruno police Chief Ed Barberini attended the town hall meeting in San Francisco and said that the Big 5 Sporting Goods store had no recent robberies prior to this incident. Police there only connected the armed robbery to the incident in San Francisco after it was too late.
When Garcia entered the sporting goods store he walked up to an employee brandishing the airsoft pistol and produced not only a note demanding a shotgun, but an advertisement with a photo and description of the 20-inch barrel shotgun that had been ripped from a newspaper. He took the gun and ammunition as he left the store.
Barberini said officers responded to the robbery but were unable to locate the suspect.
The armed robbery was captured on video surveillance footage that shows the suspect, wearing white overalls with a black sweatshirt underneath, brandishing what appears to be a handgun in front of three people behind the sales counter.
The employees told San Bruno police that Garcia then proceeded to tell them that he was suicidal.
Suhr said Garcia fled from San Bruno to San Francisco in a white GMC Sierra pickup truck, later located at the construction site. Suhr said investigators still don’t know why Garcia chose to go to the construction site in San Francisco after leaving San Bruno.
The San Francisco medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy examination to determine Garcia’s cause of death.
San Francisco police have said they plan to release the names of the officers involved in the shooting within 10 days of the incident and Suhr said that their homicide unit and internal affairs unit are continuing to investigate the incident.
Suhr said the Office of Citizen Complaint, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the San Bruno Police Department are also investigating the incident.
Suhr acknowledged that the use of deadly force was a tragedy and said he has spoken to Garcia’s mother and apologized for the loss of her son.
He said he’s glad, however, that no additional lives were lost.