Around 12:30 am on Monday, someone in Bakersfield, California, called 911 to report a man brandishing a handgun.
Ten minutes later, 73-year-old Franscisco Serna was dead.
Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin said at a press conference that Officer Reagan Selman and his partner were the first officers to respond to the emergency call.
Martin said a woman told police she was removing items from a vehicle when Serna approached her. She said he was acting bizarrely and had one hand in his pocket, and that she saw a black- or brown-handled object that she believed was a firearm. She ran inside her home and asked her husband to call the police. The husband told a 911 dispatcher that a man outside had a revolver and had brandished the weapon.
When they arrived, the caller pointed to Serna, who was standing in the driveway of a home. She said, “That’s him!’”
Less than 30 seconds passed, and shots were fired.
Selman was about 15 to 20 feet away from Serna when he shot him seven times, according to police.
Serna was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said Serna did not make any threatening moves toward the officers, and no less lethal attempts to interact with the man were made prior to the shooting. Five more officers had responded and saw the shooting. None of the other officers fired any rounds, Martin said.
When police searched Serna for the gun he was reported to be brandishing, they did not find one.
The victim, however, was holding another object that apparently was mistaken for a gun, authorities have confirmed:
“During a search of Mr. Serna a dark colored simulated woodgrain crucifix was recovered,” police said in a statement. “Mr. Serna was not armed at the time of the shooting. No firearm has been recovered.”
Serna, who was in the early stages of dementia, had recently grown attached to the religious item and often carried it around with him and waved it at people, according to his family. The father of five, grandfather of 16, and great-grandfather of five was diagnosed with dementia in July. His health had taken a recent turn for the worse, his daughter said.
Her parents were watching television when her mother left the room to wash another load of laundry, Laura Serna told Time:
When she returned, her husband was missing and the front door was cracked open. “She went outside and she called him, ‘Francisco!’ And he did not respond. But she did notice that his body was across the street,” his daughter said. “He was slumped over and bloodied.”
“I said, ‘That is my father! Is he injured?’ An officer pushed us and said we needed to leave—that we’re in a crime scene,” she said. “It was horrible. I could not believe it. I could not believe what was going on.”
Bakersfield police had visited Francisco Serna’s home at least two times before, because his father would become confused and activate a medical alarm, Rogelio Serna said.
He also reported that his father often had trouble sleeping and frequently went on late-night walks to tire himself out.
It is not uncommon for people with dementia to wander and become confused, as USA Today explains:
The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association, which offers support for patients and families dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, declined to comment specifically on the case but did say that dementia patients can be prone to wandering, or might get confused while they are out for a walk. It can happen at any stage of the ailment, said Beth Kallmyer, the association’s vice president of constituent services. Dementia patients also might become agitated at night, she said.
“What can happen when somebody is out and about, they might be in an area they know, but because of the Alzheimer’s dementia, they might get confused about where they’re at,” Kallmyer said. “One of the things that is important for families … is to get educated about some of these things that can happen with wandering and have a plan in place to help with that.”
Selman has worked with Bakersfield police since July 2015 and this is his first shooting, according to the police statement. Selman and six other officers at the scene of the shooting are on administrative leave while Bakersfield police investigate the case.
“This is a tragic incident for their family, the community as a whole, and the police department,” Martin said.
Serna’s son, Rogelio Serna, said of the tragedy,
“My dad did not own a gun. He was a 73-year-old retired grandpa, just living life. He should have been surrounded by family at old age, not surrounded by bullets.”
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