Man shot by police near Jefferson County Fair identified
Shouts of "He has a gun!" threw visitors to the Jefferson County Fair into a panic just before 5 p.m., Friday, July 22.
Several police officers swarmed the scene and followed a suspect who ran across U.S. Highway 97. Witnesses heard numerous shots fired. The suspect reportedly was shot by police, was injured and taken to St. Charles Madras hospital.
Police have identified Rafael Gomez, 29, as the suspect. According to witnesses, Gomez took a long rifle from an unlocked truck at the fairgrounds, where he was confronted by civilians. He ran, escaping through a hole in a fence on the fairgrounds, before running toward the KFC/A&W on Highway 97, where he was shot by officers.
Gomez has been charged with attempted aggravated murder, five counts of unlawful use of a weapon, first degree theft, being a felon in possession of a firearm, unlawful entry into a motor vehicle and five counts of menacing.
Gomez was considered a fugitive from justice as of July 13 in connection with the violation of his parole on felony charges in San Diego County, California. In other Oregon counties, Gomez has been convicted of theft, giving false information to a peace officer and second degree criminal trespass, all misdemeanors.
Authorities released little information about the ongoing investigation. Gomez was reportedly hospitalized after Friday's incident and is being held at the Jefferson County Jail.
Brentley Foster, an assistant district attorney for Jefferson County, released a statement after the incident, confirming reports of "an individual armed with a long rifle at the Jefferson County Fair." She added, "Officers and deputies immediately located and attempted to apprehend the suspect, who fled on foot from the Jefferson County fairgrounds. The suspect was in the process of attempting to enter a local business a short distance away still armed with his weapon when he was ultimately shot by law enforcement. The suspect is receiving medical treatment.
"As required by Oregon law, a use-of-force investigation has been initiated."
She said the investigation is in its early stages and includes officers from the Bend, Redmond and Prineville police departments, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police.
Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact Jefferson County Non-Emergency Dispatch at 541-475-2201.
Madras resident Dan Comingore said he saw the incident unfold. Speaking to a reporter on Friday, he incorrectly described the suspect as African American — as reported in earlier versions of the Pamplin Media Group story. Police on Monday, July 25, said the suspect is not African American but Latino.
Comingore said he saw the suspect walking into the area where Comingore and other fair participants park their RVs and livestock trailers. Comingore said he knows all the people who parked in that area and knew the suspect didn't belong there, so he followed.
"He looked into the pickup, opened the pickup door and pulled out what looked like an AR-15," Comingore said, referring to an American-made ArmaLite assault weapon.
Comingore said the man pulled out a magazine and loaded the gun.
Comingore said he yelled to his friends nearby that the "suspect had a gun."
"And then he turned around and pointed it at me," he said.
Comingore said he ran to his pickup for his sidearm. Four of his friends also had guns aimed at the suspect while Comingore called 911.
Within seconds, half a dozen officers were on the scene, he said.
The suspect, Comingore said, slipped through a fence and again pointed the gun back his direction.
The suspect ran east toward Highway 97, crossed the roadway, then reportedly was shot by police.
It didn't take long for rumors to spread through the busy Friday evening fair crowd of a potential active shooter on the grounds. Families raced from the carnival to take shelter. Parents ran to the carnival to retrieve their children. People sheltered in bathrooms and behind the counter at the 4-H café.
Within approximately 20 minutes after the chaos ensued, an "all clear" report came over the loudspeakers and the fair continued.
Krysteen Lomonaco has a booth at the fair. She said this was the second event she's been at since May that involved shooting. "What should our response be?" she asked.
She watched a vendor pack up and leave as soon as the incident was over. "I don't know what's worse, the people who left, or the people who are staying."
Shootings, she says, are so commonplace people just shrug and continue on.
Victor Bonilla, manager at the Madras Cinema 5, saw the suspect running across the parking lot. When he heard four shots and saw a window at the KFC shatter, he immediately locked the doors.
"I warned customers to stay in the theater. I went into the movie theaters and told the audiences there is an active shooting going on, but all the doors are locked," Bonilla said, telling the audiences, "You're safe. Stay calm."
At O'Reilly Auto Parts, two employees and two customers holed up in the bathrooms until it was over.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.