Police: Man suspected of shooting L.A. deputy left St. George ‘to make it on his own or die’

Stock image | Photo by Barbol88/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The family of Rhett Nelson, who is suspected in the shooting a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy and the murder of another man, told St. George Police he left home with a gun but they didn’t believe he was suicidal or a danger to others.

Rhett Nelson, location and date not specified | Image courtesy of St. George Police Department, St. George News

Los Angeles officials allege Nelson, 30, shot Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano in the head Monday at a Jack in the Box restaurant in the eastern Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra after fatally shooting a 30-year-old man in downtown LA in attacks that both appear to be random.

Solano, who had been on life support, died Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Medical staff worked around the clock for two days “trying to do a miracle but unfortunately that didn’t come to pass,” he said.

Nelson’s family contacted St. George Police on May 27 and said he’d left their Utah home “without any specific reason” with a gun but they did not think he was suicidal or a danger to anyone else, Capt. Mike Giles said.

“He made a statement to them or somehow communicated he wanted to make it on his own or die,” Giles said. They formally reported him missing the next day and said they believed the gun was for self-defense. It was not immediately known who owned the weapon.

Nelson has a history of mental illness and a history of opiate abuse, though he had been clean for about six months, according to statements from his father, Bradley Nelson. The family is “devastated beyond words” by the attacks and is cooperating with authorities.

“We believe we made every effort to help Rhett and bring him home safely without harm to himself or others, but despite our best efforts we were unable to locate him before this horrific act,” the statement said.

On June 4, Nelson called his family from Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County, Giles said. They still believed he was safe and police removed him from a missing persons database the next day.

Photos taken from security cameras showing a man believed to be Rhett Nelson, of St. George, who is suspected in the attempted murder of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy in Alhambra, California, June 10, 2019. | Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, St. George News

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Nelson’s booking photo as part of an effort to seek any additional victims. Homicide investigators believe he may have been involved in other crimes in California.

Giles said no recent crimes involving Nelson have been reported to St. George police.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Nelson didn’t have a violent criminal history in Utah but had previously pleaded guilty to driving with a “measurable amount” of a controlled substance in his body and guilty to underage alcohol offenses.

Los Angeles authorities recovered a gun from Nelson’s car. It was not immediately clear if it was the firearm from Utah.

Police in San Diego County are investigating whether Nelson may have also committed five armed robberies there earlier this month.

Authorities in San Diego said Wednesday they are investigating the robberies and their “association” with Nelson.

The San Diego Police Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Carlsbad Police Department issued a news release regarding the robberies, which occurred June 7 through Sunday.

In each robbery, the suspect wielded a handgun and demanded cash, the release stated. The crimes occurred in San Diego, Lemon Grove and Carlsbad.

San Diego authorities are going through surveillance video and have been in contact with Los Angeles investigators.

Written by STEFANIE DAZIO Associated Press.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Wednesday at 8:08 p.m. to report that Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano has died.

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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