2 dead, suspect identified in random California shootings

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 28, 2015 12:53 AM

BANNING, Calif. (AP) — Police on Sunday identified the suspect arrested in the shootings deaths of two people in an apparently random rampage in the Southern California city of Banning.

James Paul Diaz, 34, of Hemet, was jailed Sunday on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and other charges stemming from Saturday's shooting spree, police said in a statement.

Banning Police Chief Alex Diaz said victims interviewed by police said they did not know the suspect. A neighbor said he is a former firefighter, construction worker and father of three young children.

"At this point, in my heart, I believe this was just something random," he told the Associated Press. "We are pretty sure this is the only suspect involved in the random shootings."

Officers took a blood sample from Diaz to test for alcohol and drugs.

Authorities on Saturday responded to reports of gunfire in a string of incidents in the city near Palm Springs, California that killed two people and injured three including a shooting that killed a driver and injured a passenger, a car-to-car shooting that caused a minor injury and an assault at a gas station.

Authorities also found a man whose car crashed into a facility wall had been shot — an incident Diaz said investigators believe was linked.

Within an hour, police in the nearby city of Beaumont fielded calls about a man knocking on people's doors looking for his children and trying to enter a vehicle occupied by a woman and her children by damaging the windows and a door handle, Diaz said.

Officers tracked down a white SUV linked to those incidents and that matched a vehicle seen at the attacks in Banning. Police in Beaumont arrested James Paul Diaz and found a weapon inside the SUV, chief Diaz said.

One of the victims of the shootings was identified as 66-year-old Paul Lesh. The other victim's name was not released, pending notification of family, he said.

It was not immediately clear when the suspect would appear in court. Messages were left on phone numbers linked to Diaz's name.

His neighbor Jim Powell told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1h1sC8i ) that Diaz became a construction worker after being laid off from his job at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection a couple years ago.

Powell called Diaz a great neighbor and hard worker who would lend a hand at a moment's notice.

"I never would have expected that," Powell said of the news of Diaz's arrest.