After a two-day manhunt, a Paso Robles shooting suspect was killed Thursday in an industrial part of town after police engaged him in a shootout that injured a SWAT team officer and two others.
Law enforcement officers from around the county converged on Volpi Ysabel Road and Ramada Drive about 2 p.m. and exchanged gunfire with Mason James Lira, 26, a homeless man who most recently lived in Monterey County.
Three officers were shot and suffered non-life-threatening injuries, including a member of the county’s regional SWAT team from the Arroyo Grande Police Department, a California Highway Patrol officer and a Kings County sheriff’s deputy.
Early Wednesday morning, Lira ambushed the Paso Robles Police Department, killing a 58-year-old homeless man near the city’s train station and shooting deputy Nicholas Dreyfus.
Law enforcement hunted Lira for nearly two days, locking down most of downtown Paso Robles on Wednesday and continuing to search for him in the Salinas Riverbed between the south end of the city and Templeton into the early hours of Thursday morning.
At 2 a.m, Lira was spotted. at the Chevron gas station on Ramada Drive, where he bought an energy drink. Before Thursday afternoon, he had last been seen walking from the Chevron to the intersection of Highway 46 West and Ramada Drive.
Following the 2 p.m. shootout, additional shots were fired in the riverbed at 4:11 p.m.
A series of rapid-fire gunshots could be heard ringing across the vineyards coming from the riverbed area along Ramada Drive between Templeton and San Luis Obispo. The volley of shots sounded like firecrackers from a distance.
Law enforcement officials from a variety of agencies stationed themselves along Ramada Drive.
Shortly after the shots were fired, law enforcement vehicles rushed to the riverbed to assist, sirens blaring, moving quickly, tires screeching.
“I think that just resolved the situation,” a police official standing by commented.
According to a Sheriff’s Office news release, Lira had opened fire on a group of officers searching the riverbed, wounding two of them. According to the release, those officers were from the CHP and the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, which had been called in to assist in the search.
The officers were evacuated from the area and transported to local hospitals. They were in good condition with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
According to the release, officers continued their search along the Salinas River and soon encountered Lira, who had been hiding in the riverbed.
He attempted to flee toward Highway 101 and was shot by law enforcement officers, according to the release. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lira had two handguns in his possession at that time, which are believed to have been stolen during a commercial burglary in San Luis Obispo a few days prior, according to the release.
While police worked to apprehend Lira on Thursday afternoon, Templeton was locked down, and the county sent reverse 911 calls and texts to residents within two miles of Volpi Ysabel Road and Ramada Drive.
Several businesses in south Paso Robles also closed and secured their employees inside.
Austin Muro of Kirk Construction was working in the south Paso Robles area near the shootout between Lira and law enforcement officers.
“We were working, helicopters flew over,” Muro said. “I shut the equipment off so I could hear a little better. And as soon as we heard a ‘pop, pop, pop,’ then got all the guys and we high-tailed to cover. And then everyone started rolling up with sirens. I hope he’s down. I hope they got him. He’s a bad man.”
A California Highway Patrol trooper said he was stationed on the north end of the site and did not see Lira when the fatal shots were fired. He said he heard that Lira came running out of a hiding area in the riverbed when fatal shots were fired.
“It was a Butch Cassidy situation,” the officer said.
Lira’s father, Jose Lira, told The Associated Press he believed the attack on the Paso Robles Police Department was a suicide attempt.
Jose Lira said his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and had been in and out of jail and treatment centers, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
Lira also often thought he was a special agent or soldier, his father said.
“He lives in a fantasy world,” Jose Lira said. “He doesn’t have a beef with the police.”
Lira had a minor past criminal history and a social media account that included bizarre ramblings and photos of guns.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham issued a statement on the manhunt and shooting Thursday evening, saying the community has been “terrorized” by the ordeal.
“The events of the last two days are finally over, but the repercussions are ongoing,” he said. “Several officers are wounded, one innocent man was killed senselessly and our community has been terrorized.”
Cunningham thanked everyone involved in locating and stopping Lira, and said he would pray for the victims and their families.
“Our entire community is pulling for your recovery, and grateful for your courage and self-sacrifice,” he said.
— Lindsey Holden, Matt Fountain, Cassandra Garibay and Kaytlyn Leslie are staff writers for the San Luis Obispo Tribune.