Fire disrupts Modesto standoff with man suspected in shooting of deputy Robert Paris, civilian

Stanislaus County Deputy Robert Paris is seen in this undated picture.
KPIX-TV/Stanislaus County Sheriff

(AP) MODESTO, Calif. - A raging fire that broke out at a Modesto apartment during a standoff was mostly out early Friday, but the status of a suspect in the shooting deaths of a deputy and a civilian was still unknown, police said.

Firefighters were still at the scene around 6 a.m. PDT putting out spot fires, and the apartment complex was cordoned off with yellow tape.

"We are hoping to get inside within the next few hours, once daylight breaks," Modesto police officer Chris Adams told The Associated Press.

The blaze erupted late Thursday night, hours after a sheriff's deputy and a civilian were shot to death as authorities tried to serve an eviction notice in the central California city.

It was not clear how the fire began, but the Modesto Bee reports that the county sheriff has acknowledged that flash-bang devices and tear gas could have been responsible. Adams did not provide details of damage to the building.

The gunfire led to a more than 12-hour standoff with the suspect at the Whispering Woods development. At one point, police broke the windows of the apartment with bean bags, and fired flash grenades and tear gas.

Shortly before 9 p.m. PDT Thursday, six officers rushed toward the apartment, the Bee reported. Sharp bangs from concussive devices were heard for more than an hour. Officers used loudspeakers to communicate with a man they called "Jimmy" to "pick up the phone." No one came out.

Television footage shows flames pouring out of the top of a building around 10 p.m. Shortly before midnight, fire officials said there were signs that the structure was collapsing.

The suspect was believed to be on the first floor of the building.

At one point during the standoff, more than 100 law enforcement officers from the Central Valley were at the scene. FBI and SWAT teams surrounded the building and authorities evacuated nearby residents while others remained in their homes.

Adams said the operation had been scaled back by early Friday but he didn't have a figure on the number of law officers who were at the scene.

Officials identified the deputy killed as Robert Paris, who was gunned down when gunfire broke out around 11 a.m., Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said.

The incident began when two Stanislaus County deputies went to the north Modesto home to deliver the notice, said Christianson, who called the incident "another dark day" for law enforcement in California.

"One of my valued members of my team is dead," a distraught Christianson told reporters. "I am overwhelmingly frustrated that we don't have the sufficient resources to protect the community."

Neighbors Yemen Zokari and Steven Gasterlum, who told the newspaper they live with their baby two doors down from the suspect gunman, said they looked out the window when they heard gunshots Thursday morning.

They said they saw two men lying on the ground, one on his stomach and another on his back closer to the door of the house from where the shots came.

"There was another officer that was kneeling on the side of the house while they were laying there," Zokari said. "I think he was staying out of the way from being shot."

"We just felt so bad. We wanted to do something but you can't. What can you do? It's traumatizing to see them."

Christianson said he believed that his deputies did not return fire.

Paris, 53, was a 16-year veteran of the department, Christianson said. He is survived by his parents, a brother and two adult children.

The name of the civilian has not been released.

Authorities told the Bee the suspect is in his mid-40s and may have had military training. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Anthony Bejaran would not confirm if authorities had been in contact with the suspect.

"There's not much more information I can give out," said Bejaran, a sheriff's spokesman.

The Whispering Woods development opened in 2002 on the site of the former Prescott Estates, which was known for decades as one of the most crime-plagued and substandard housing areas in Modesto, according to the Bee.

The city shut down Prescott Estates, and the property was cleaned and extensively remodeled. Officer Chris Adams, a Modesto police spokesman, said the area isn't as crime-ridden as it was a few years ago.