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Suspect ID’d in Mojave Desert shootout

RIDGECREST, Calif. (AP) – A sister of a survivor in the Ridgecrest rampage says the gunman was a heroin dealer who wanted to eliminate snitches.

Dawn Meier told The Associated Press on Friday that 39-year-old Sergio Munoz was friends with her brother, but shot him and his girlfriend when the brother refused to go along with the plot.

The girlfriend was killed in the early morning shooting. Dawn Meier says her brother, Thaddeus Meier, is recovering at a hospital.

Munoz later took a man and woman hostage and led police on a lengthy car chase with the pair in his trunk.

Authorities say Munoz was killed when he stopped on the side of the road and began firing his gun into the trunk.

Police say the hostages are in critical condition.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

A gunman fatally shot a woman, injured a man and then led police on a wild chase through the Mojave Desert with two hostages in his trunk before he was killed in a shootout with police.

Ridgecrest police were investigating the shooting scene shortly after 5 a.m. Friday when an officer got a call on his cellphone from the suspect, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference. The suspect said he wanted to deliver a package to police and kill officers but, because he would be outgunned, he would “wreak havoc” elsewhere.

Police now believe the “package” the gunman had for them was the hostages, Youngblood said.

Nearly two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted the suspect’s car and a pursuit began over roughly 30 miles of highway, through arid stretches of desert. The suspect ran traffic off the road, firing at least 10 times from inside his black Dodge Dart with a shotgun and a handgun. No motorists were hurt, Youngblood said.

At one point during the chase, which lasted more than 40 minutes, the suspect pulled over and the car’s trunk popped open, revealing a man and woman inside. They appeared to shut the trunk, the sheriff said. It’s unclear if he opened the trunk or if they opened it from inside. The man then got back in the car and continued driving.

At some point, the man told pursuing officers, “‘I’m going to shoot them,'” Youngblood said.

In the end, the man pulled over again on U.S. 395, turned in his seat and began shooting into the trunk. As many as seven officers opened fire and killed the man.

The hostages were flown to a hospital. Their conditions were unknown, but the sheriff said he believed the two will survive.

The suspect apparently knew all of the victims at the original crime scene in the city of Ridgecrest, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, Youngblood said.

Tresia Hunter, 57, who lives in a mobile home park adjacent to a duplex where the first shooting occurred, was getting ready to leave for a hospital appointment when she said she heard three gunshots that weren’t in rapid succession.

“It was a loud gunshot, then two to three minutes passed before the next one,” Hunter said. “It took another four minutes before the last one.”

There was some information that the suspect was using Facebook during the pursuit, but it wasn’t immediately clear what the postings were, Youngblood said. Investigators recovered the shotgun and a handgun.

A crime scene was set up along U.S. 395 at Kramer Junction, where two police helicopters landed amid numerous law enforcement vehicles. The CHP said the highway was closed from Kramer Junction for 10 miles north because of the investigation. Youngblood said the highway would likely be closed into the night while the investigation continued.

Schools in Ridgecrest were placed on lockdown as a precaution but were later reopened.

The city of about 27,000 people is adjacent to the vast Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which sprawls over more than 1,700 square miles of desert. U.S. 395 runs through the western Mojave, below the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada.

Ridgecrest Mayor Dan Clark called the incident disturbing, especially because the small city is relatively crime free.

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