Valle Vista Girl, 5, Recovering From Gunshot Wound
10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A 5-year-old Valle Vista girl was recovering at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital from a gunshot wound she received during a shootout between her father and Riverside County sheriff's deputies and Hemet police early Monday.
Marisa Roberts was struck in the leg by a single round when her father, Carlos Santiago Roberts, traded gunfire with authorities at the end of a vehicle pursuit just after midnight. Carlos Roberts was killed in the altercation and a 3-year-old boy was found uninjured in the suspect's van.
On Tuesday, Loma Linda spokeswoman Julie Smith said hospital officials could not comment on the girl's medical condition because of state privacy laws and the fact that Child Protective Services has become involved in the case. Relatives said the girl was recuperating after surgery to remove a bullet from her broken leg.
"She was shot once in the lower leg and it broke the big bone," said Adriana Urias, her aunt. "The bullet hit the front of her leg."
All this happened a short time after the girl's mother, Ana Maria Roberts, was apparently shot to death at the family home on C Street in Valle Vista. Carlos Roberts is suspected of that shooting.
Urias said Marisa's grandparents were with her most of Tuesday.
"She'll be in the hospital a few more days," Urias said.
Sheriff's spokesman Dennis Gutierrez defended the deputies Monday, saying they had to make a split-second decision, and that they have a right to protect themselves when they come under fire.
Tom Aveni, researcher and forensic consultant with the Police Policy Studies Council of New Hampshire, said the officers had a tough call.
"This one sounds like a very complex and very fluid situation," he said. "It's not like they had a guy barricaded in his home where they could have brought in a hostage negotiator.
"This guy had just gotten out of a vehicle. The situation was not stabilized. Also, they knew that he had possibly already shot and killed somebody."
Aveni said it was not the kind of situation where officers are taught to buy time so they can defuse things.
"It sounds like he (Roberts) displayed intent to do harm not only to the officers but possibly to the girl as well," Aveni said. "Given what he had just done within the hour, we have a guy who appears to be in a homicidal rage. Under those circumstance, is the risk you're placing the child in less than the risk the homicidal individual is subjecting the child to?
"I'd have to go with the officers in this case."
Working the Case
Riverside County Sheriff's spokesman Jerry Franchville said many questions could not be answered Tuesday because investigators were still sorting out facts. The department also declined to make available the 911 emergency dispatch tape of the incident, saying it was booked as evidence and "not available for public distribution."
Besides the tapes, deputies are looking into statements by eyewitnesses.
One eyewitness said that deputies had stopped the van on Lake Street in Valle Vista and through a loudspeaker ordered Roberts out of the vehicle and onto the ground. Instead, the driver reportedly made a quick U-turn, speeding past several patrol cars. Deputies continued the chase.
"I know they (investigators) are still looking into a lot of things," Franchville said. "One witness may say one thing and another may say something else."
Since Dec. 13, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department has been involved in five deputy-involved shootings, including three that were fatal.
The department has had 17 deputy involved shootings each year for the last three years. Of those, deputies killed four people last year, 12 in 2006 and 10 in the previous year.
Urias said authorities have not told family members anything about what happened at the C Street location in Valle Vista. Ana Maria Roberts was found dead from what appeared to be gunshot wounds. Her body was discovered in the home she shared with Roberts and the couple's children, officials said.
A 911 caller reported the woman's death and seeing Roberts leave the C Street address with his daughter and 3-year-old son shortly after midnight. Deputies spotted his van and tried to stop it, but he led them on a chase that ended in front of his in-laws' house at Harvard Street and Mayberry Avenue in central Hemet.
Whether Roberts intended to use his daughter as a human shield is unknown. On Monday, Franchville said Roberts sat in the van for several minutes, then stepped out with his daughter and fired one shot at officers. They returned fire, striking him an unknown number of times.
Still unknown is whether the child was hit by a round from her father's gun or by police fire.
The father and daughter were transported to Hemet Valley Medical Center, where he died. She was then transferred to Children's Hospital.