FRESNO, Calif. – Relatives of a Fresno high school student who was shot to death after he attacked a police officer with a baseball bat questioned the department's version of events Thursday and said the depressed teenager never received the help he needed from school officials.
Jesus "Jesse" Carrizales, a 17-year-old sophomore, died Wednesday of a single bullet to the chest, fired by a school resources officer, Junus Perry, whom police said Carrizales had ambushed on an outdoor ramp outside Perry's office at Roosevelt High School. Officers found a small knife protruding from Carrizales' pocket, police said.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Thursday that the 6-foot-tall, 250-pound teen sought out the violent confrontation, which he called "a case of suicide by cop."
It wasn't the first time Carrizales had a run-in with police. In 2005, while in middle school, the student was cited for concealing a small knife in his backpack, Dyer said. Relatives said the knife belonged to a friend.
The next year, however, Carrizales' 10 brothers and sisters noticed he had become withdrawn, and the family decided he would do better at an alternative school where he could pursue independent study. He was prescribed Lexapro and Geodon, drugs used to treat depression and bipolar disorder, and in January he transferred to Roosevelt High, said his sister Elisa Ortega.
"He was a boy who needed help," said Ortega, 27. "He was depressed and he was on medication and the school knew it, so maybe they could have treated things differently."
Carrizales' family said the officer didn't have to shoot the teen, and questioned authorities' version of events.
"He never said he wanted to die or anything close to that," Ortega said. "They didn't have to kill him. The Taser guns, the batons they have, that should have been enough to calm the situation down."
Dyer said after Carrizales surprised the officer from behind and struck him in the head with the 21-inch bat, Perry feared for his life.
The officer fell down dazed, and reached for the gun in his hip holster, but the clip fell out.
As the student came at him again, yelling obscenities and raising the bat above his head, Perry grabbed a semiautomatic handgun he carried as backup in an ankle holster. He fired one round, Dyer said.
"It is unfortunate that the officer was put in a position where he had to take a student's life," Dyer told reporters Thursday. "Had he not defended himself there could have been further tragedy."
At least five students and a probation officer on campus witnessed the incident, police said. No one else was injured.
Fresno Unified School District spokeswoman Susan Bedi said a confidentiality agreement kept her from commenting on Carrizales' history in local schools.
Acting Superintendent Ruth Quinto said in a statement that the district was proud of how staff and students handled the situation.
"They have shown great strength and maturity," Quinto said. "We are continuing and will continue for as long as necessary to support them in any way that we can."
Carrizales' siblings described him as a lighthearted aspiring chef who preferred to play video games with his young cousins rather than take part in adult conversations.
"He was more of a kid himself. He was a momma's boy," said another sister, Irene Ortega, 25, speaking outside her mother's modest Fresno home. "We just want to know what happened before that incident to see what made him do what police say he did."
Perry is recovering at home after being treated for a 2-inch gash on the right side of his head, Dyer said. He is on administrative leave while the department reviews his conduct in Fresno's fourth officer-involved shooting this year.