FRESNO, Calif. – The California man who authorities believe killed one law enforcement officer and wounded two others in a gun fight at his mobile home was a reclusive private security guard who once kept a collection of guns and recently clashed with his neighbors.
Public records and interviews portray Rick "Ricky" Ray Liles, 51, as a loner who came to the attention of Fresno County authorities investigating shots fired and a string of arson fires in the village of Minkler on the highway to Kings Canyon National Park.
"He seemed very, very polite, very nice and he came from a very good family," said Loretta Noble, whose daughter married Liles' brother. "I couldn't sleep last night, just thinking about it. I don't know what happened to him that he went off this way."
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer officially identified Liles on Friday as the shooter and said he likely took his own life Thursday with a gunshot wound to the head during the shootout.
Liles shared the mobile home with a woman who survived the shootout in which as many as 400 shots were fired.
Liles was named in a search warrant involving the shed fires and gunshots that was being served just before the gunbattle erupted.
Mary Novack, who runs the Minkler Cash Store across the highway from Liles' single-wide trailer, said he and his female companion would come in regularly for sodas and cigarettes.
"No particular kind, just whatever was cheapest," Novack said.
Beginning in October, her store alarm would sometimes sound in the middle of the night as shots pierced her front window. Trajectory instruments used by authorities indicated the bullets might have came from the front porch of Liles' trailer.
"I don't know why he'd do that. I never had any problem with him," said Novack, who witnessed the shootout.
Court records indicate Liles had an assortment of radar detectors, police scanners and a collection of five handguns, four rifles and an "a/r" — possible shorthand for assault rifle.
Liles and his wife, Sandy, legally separated in 2000, citing an "irremediable breakdown" of their 13-year marriage in the court documents. He got the guns in a property settlement, and the couple also agreed to share custody of their 11-year-old daughter.
Liles obtained a security guard's license in 2002 and remained in good standing, according to records from the California Department of Consumer Affairs. A firearm permit he had since 2003 expired last summer.
Property records show Liles, who had blond hair and wore glasses, moved to Minkler at least three years ago. The hamlet has a population of only about 30 people and in 2004 listed itself for sale on eBay. The ad to "own your own town" for $600,000 never attracted a buyer.
Novack said she was surprised to see authorities serving the search warrant Thursday at the trailer. They used a loudspeaker to repeatedly order anyone inside to surrender then smashed down the door and went inside before Novack heard gunfire.
A law enforcement expert said it's difficult to know why the officers decided to approach the trailer rather than wait for Liles to emerge.
"One of the best things to do is to park down the street and sit there and just wait till the guy leaves," said Ed Nowicki, director emeritus of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association based in Burlington, Wis.
"If you're going to go in, you want to do everything you can to reduce the potential vulnerability of the officers executing the search warrant," he said.
Sheriff Margaret Mims said Joel Wahlenmaier, 49, the slain deputy, was a 12-year veteran of the department along with a husband and father of two adult children.
Police Officer Javier Bejar was critically wounded in the gunbattle, and officials said he was not expected to recover from his injuries. Deputy Mark Harris was wounded and is recovering.
Wahlenmaier worked as a detective in the homicide bureau and was a longtime member of the search and rescue team.
He was an avid hiker who used skills he honed in the Sierra Nevada backcountry during his stint on the rescue team.
"He knew the quirks of people that would help us find them in the field," said fellow deputy and longtime friend Eric Schmidt. "He takes with him a lot of knowledge."
Bejar was critically wounded in the shootout when he arrived for backup from the nearby town of Reedley. City Manager Rocky Rogers said Bejar, who had two years on the police force, was being kept alive so his family can pay their last respects.
Julia Mendoza, whose son grew up with Bejar, said the officer grew up in Orange Cove, a nearby citrus-growing town.
"He's a good man, a very good person and always there to help anyone he can," Mendoza said. "The family is just waiting at the hospital for God to perform a miracle."