Police shoot Iraq War Marine dead after local police sergeant is slain

San Francisco Chronicle

Liquor store’s video surveillance camera recorded shootout

January 11, 2005, Ceres, California — Authorities are trying to understand why a Marine who had spent seven months fighting in Iraq allegedly shot to death a police sergeant in the Central Valley town of Ceres and critically wounded another officer before being shot to death.

“We’re still in the very early stages of investigating this,” Deputy Jason Woodman, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, said Monday. “We still have a long way to go.”

Investigators are exploring the possibility that the gunman, whom authorities identified as 19-year-old Andres Raya of Modesto, may have wanted to die in what police call “suicide by cop,” because he didn’t want to go back to Iraq. Although the Marines said Raya’s unit had already been deployed to Iraq twice and was not scheduled to return, his family told investigators that Raya had expressed concern he would be shipped out again.

Raya, who was supposed to have reported back to Camp Pendleton in San Diego County after taking holiday leave, walked into George’s Liquor Store in Ceres Sunday night carrying an SKS assault rifle, authorities said. Raya began making odd statements and asking the clerk suspicious questions, said Modesto police spokesman Rick Applegate.

Raya walked out of the shop and fired off a couple of rounds from his rifle, Woodman said, then went back into the store and told the clerk that he had been shot and to call police.

Officer Sam Ryno, a 22-year police veteran, arrived a short time later. Raya opened fire and hit the 50-year-old officer, who took cover and fired back, authorities said.

About this time Sgt. Howard Stevenson pulled up. Just as he was getting out of his squad car, Raya shot him twice in the head, probably at close range, then fled through nearby backyards, police believe.

Stevenson, 39, had been a member of the Ceres police force for 20 years and was the department’s first officer ever killed in the line of duty. He is survived by a wife and two daughters, ages 19 and 13, and an 18-year-old son.

Ryno, a husband and father of two, was being treated in the intensive care unit at an area hospital.

Most of the shootout was caught on the liquor store’s video surveillance cameras. The footage was played for reporters Monday.

After Raya escaped, SWAT teams, officers and sheriff’s deputies from all over Stanislaus and neighboring counties swarmed into Ceres, a farm town of close to 40,000 people 95 miles east of San Francisco. For the next three hours they searched for the missing gunman.

Some of the officers went from home to home warning residents to stay inside and to keep their doors locked. Some neighborhoods were evacuated.

Police shot out streetlights so the gunman could not make out their shadows as they hunted for him. Eventually Raya appeared — just 50 yards from the liquor store — and opened fire at two sheriff’s deputies and two Modesto police officers, Woodman said. They returned fire, killing him.

Woodman said police were tracing the rifle Raya used, which was illegal and had not been issued to him by the military. In the meantime, authorities have talked to the gunman’s parents, who said their son had served seven months in Iraq and had been home for Christmas, Woodman said.

Woodman said Raya’s family told investigators that he didn’t want to return to the Middle East. He was due to report back to Camp Pendleton on Sunday.

His parents said they drove him to the airport last week to fly to San Diego, according to Woodman. Raya’s fellow Marines have told investigators that they saw him on base Saturday night and that he never returned after supposedly going out to grab a bite.

Marine officials at Camp Pendleton released only limited information about the case, saying they were constrained by guidelines — normally enacted after a death in battle — requiring 24 hours to pass between the time the family is notified and any public statements.

Capt. Juliet Chelkowski would not confirm the Marine’s name, but said the staff judge advocate was working with law enforcement on the investigation. She would not identify the Marine’s unit, but said it was one that had been deployed twice to Iraq and was not scheduled to ship out again.

Other Marine sources identified his unit as the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines of the 1st Marine Division, which has had more than 30 casualties during the war, mostly in Al Anbar province, a Sunni-dominated region that includes Fallujah and Ramadi.

Maj. Michael Samarov, commanding officer of Marine Corps Recruiting Station in San Francisco, said Raya had enlisted in 2003 and had graduated from boot camp two years ago.

E-mail the writers at sfinz@sfchronicle.com and mstannard@sfchronicle.com

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