Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Liz Miller
Observer Staff Writer 

Suspect in Officer Killings had Gang Ties, Previous Attempted Murder Charge

John Felix was wearing body armor when arrested in Palm Springs


October 11, 2016

Palm Springs Police Department

Officers Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny,

A suspect in the killing of two Palm Springs police officers was arrested about 1:30 am Sunday morning. John Felix, 26, was unarmed but wearing "soft body armor" when taken into custody.

Felix is accused of shooting officers Jose Vega, a 63-year-old father of eight who was due to retire in December, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, who had just returned to active duty following maternity leave.

The suspect faces two counts of first degree murder with special circumstances including multiple murders and murder of police officers, said Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin during a Sunday news conference.

The incident began with a 911 call from a woman saying her adult son was creating a disturbance. When the officers arrived, Felix refused to open the door, instead opening fire through the closed door.

Neighbors reported hearing as many as 30 gunshots.

A third officer received non-life-threatening injuries.

Felix previously spent four years in prison in connection with a failed gang-related murder plot. In that 2009 incident the target did not die, and attempted murder charges were filed. Felix pleaded not guilty to assault with a firearm but admitted his gang ties.


A memorial for Officers Jose Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny, outside the Palm Springs Police Department on Oct. 9, 2016.

Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes fought back tears at Sunday's news conference, as he described the slain officers as "guardians" of the community.

Vega had been with the force for 35 years, and was working an unscheduled, overtime shift on Saturday.

Zerebny joined the force last year, and leaves behind a four-month-old daughter. Her husband is a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff's office.

"My employees are broken," Reyes said.

The community left flowers at the police station and held a candlelight vigil.

Lights flashing, Palm Springs police cars led the vehicle procession taking the bodies from Desert Regional Medical Center to the Riverside County Sheriff's Coroner's Office in Indio.

Passing motorists lit their lights in a show of solidarity as the procession moved down the interstate.


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