Published January 02, 2008
This is a weekly series that profiles America's most wanted criminals.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Schaap doesn't remember much from the night of Sept. 5, 2000, when a gunman opened fire, squeezing off 21 rounds and shooting him in the head. But he's heard the story, many times.
Schaap and his partner, David Timberlake, were on patrol when they pulled over a white van for not having working headlights.
Schaap had things on his mind — it was his children's first day back at school. As he approached the vehicle, he had no idea the man in the van was on parole for a drug violation, had served time for narcotics possession and had a rap sheet that included firearms violations.
He found out the hard way, when the bullets started flying.
A bullet fragment from his assailant's AK-47 blasted into the bridge above Schaap's nose, ricocheted across his forehead and exited above his right eye. Timberlake escaped without injury.
The gunman fled.
Before long, Schaap was lying in a hospital bed, his wife and two children wondering if he would live or die.
Police say his assailant — Emigdio Preciado — ran off to Mexico.
Doctors removed the remaining fragments of the bullet from Schaap's head, leaving a wound the size of a quarter and his left side partially paralyzed.
Schaap struggled through a long, painful recovery, which included intense therapy to re-learn cognitive skills.
He has a horseshoe-shaped scar on his face as a constant reminder of his attacker, who still is at large.
While Schaap recovered from his brain injury, Preciado landed on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list.
Schaap called Preciado a coward for not facing up to his alleged crime.
"I understand that we all run the risk of getting injured and getting assaulted in our line of work," he said. "But what gets me is what he did to my wife and kids. To me, that is the biggest injustice."
"It's not an injury like a broken arm," Schaap said. "I have an injury that is going to affect me for the rest of my life."
Long before the shooting, Preciado fell into a life of crime with the South Side Whittier street gang, which operates outside of Los Angeles and is known for violent crime and narcotics.
"This person is extremely dangerous," said FBI special agent Scott Garriola. "He's not afraid to shoot at law enforcement. He has total disregard for authority."
Preciado is wanted for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, attempted murder of a police officer, assault with a deadly weapon and parole violation.
He knows how to conceal his identity, with aliases ranging from "Junior Preciado," "Junior," "Trigger," "Spooky" to "Snyper."
He has a horizontal scar on his left ear, a black mole below his right eye and "Susana" and "Alexa" tattoos on his left chest, which may have been removed by plastic surgery.
Preciado last was seen two years ago in the Guadalajara area of Mexico. The FBI is working with authorities in Mexico, but it's difficult to locate people there, Garriola said.
The fugitive's family likely is helping him evade authorities in Mexico, and members of his gang could be helping, too.
"We feel like he's probably still being supported by his gang," Garriola said. "He just has an extended network that are hiding him."
Authorities put up a billboard in Whittier, Calif., seeking information about Preciado, but it has been defaced twice, Garriola said. The FBI believes fellow gang members vandalized the board.
People may be afraid to notify authorities about sightings or knowledge of Preciado's location. He's been known to assault several family members in Mexico, Garriola said.
In 2001, Schaap returned to work with a different assignment.
No longer able to patrol the streets, he handles administrative duties and teaches employment issues to his department.
Schaap now looks at life differently.
"There is a reason why I didn't die," Schaap said. "There was a higher authority that had a hand in the incident."
Preciado was added to the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list in March 2007.
The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, with the Los Angeles County Supervisor's Office offering an additional $50,000 for his capture.