A 15-year-old girl was killed during a shootout with police in California’s high desert on Tuesday, along with her father who had allegedly killed the teen’s mother.
Savannah Graziano died amid a gunfight between officers and her father after an extensive chase across southern California highways. Authorities said the girl, who was wearing tactical gear, died after running toward sheriff’s deputies during the gunfire.
The San Bernardino county sheriff, Shannon Dicus, did not specify who shot the teen and emphasized in a Tuesday news conference that all information about the case is “preliminary”. Some news reports have said that deputies killed the girl. Investigators are reviewing video of the shooting.
Authorities had issued an Amber alert for Savannah Graziano after her father, Anthony John Graziano, 45, allegedly killed his estranged wife in the city of Fontana on Monday and fled with the teen. Police said Wednesday that the father and daughter had been living out of his truck and hotels together before the killing and that they are trying to determine whether the teen was abducted.
“Did she go willingly?” Fontana police Sgt Chris Surgent said. “Or was she actually abducted? We haven’t been able to prove that just yet.”
On Tuesday, the suspect’s Nissan Frontier was spotted by a 911 caller around Barstow, more than an hour from Fontana, according to the sheriff’s department. Deputies located the pickup truck and chased it on the highway for about 45 miles (70km).
During the chase, Anthony Graziano was “constantly shooting back at the deputies” from a back window, Dicus said, sending several rounds through the windshield of a patrol car and disabling another vehicle involved in the pursuit. The sheriff said Wednesday that “evidence suggests” Savannah Graziano was involved in the gunfight.
Messages seeking a comment were left with the San Bernardino county sheriff’s office on Wednesday.
After the lengthy and chaotic chase, Anthony Graziano’s vehicle went off the highway in the city of Hesperia where the firefight continued and Savannah Graziano ran toward officers, Dicus said. The deputies did not initially realize it was the girl who was running toward them, he said, because she was wearing a helmet and a military-style vest that can hold armored plates.
“During that firefight, the suspect vehicle comes to rest at which time a subject exits the passenger side of the vehicle wearing tactical gear,” Dicus said. “That subject starts to run toward sheriffs deputies and during the gunfire goes down.”
Savannah Graziano was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead. Her father was found in the driver’s seat and pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities found a rifle inside the car.
One deputy was injured after being struck on the face by shrapnel during the firefight, Dicus said.
Neither of Savannah Graziano’s parents were on probation or parole at the time of the shooting, investigators said.
Police said they had not received any reports of domestic violence at the Graziano home before Anthony Graziano allegedly killed his wife, Tracy Martinez, on Monday morning. The couple had been going through a divorce, relatives told investigators, and Anthony Graziano had recently moved out of the family home. Savannah Graziano, who was home-schooled, left with her father, while her younger brother stayed with their mother.
According to witnesses, Martinez was walking in Fontana when her estranged husband picked her up in his truck. It was not clear if she was forced into the vehicle, said Surgent with the Fontana police.
“And immediately that’s when they started arguing and yelling and domestic violence was occurring,” he said.
Martinez got out of the truck near an elementary school and Graziano opened fire with a handgun, striking her multiple times, Surgent said. The shooting took place during morning drop-off and forced students and parents to duck for cover. Graziano fled and drove to get Savannah, who officials believe was likely wherever they had been staying that day, Surgent said.
Associated Press contributed reporting