Teenage Girl Killed in Police Shootout With Her Dad in California Desert
Media outlets repeated police speculation that she might have been involved, but investigators now say she was likely unarmed.
In a complicated turn of events, a teenage girl who California law enforcement thought had been kidnapped by her father was killed in a shootout between deputies and her father. Now the state attorney general's office is investigating what exactly happened.
On Monday, a woman named Tracy Martinez was shot and killed in Fontana, California. The suspect in the shooting was Anthony John Graziano, her husband, who then went on the run. The two of them had a 15-year-old daughter, Savannah. Officials worried that Graziano had kidnapped Savannah and put out an Amber Alert looking for her.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies found Graziano driving in his pickup truck on highways between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert on Tuesday. The deputies gave chase. According to police and news reports, deputies pursued Graziano for 70 miles, with Graziano shooting at them at times, reportedly disabling one of the patrol cars.
Deputies finally managed to contain Graziano on an offramp near the town of Hesperia, and a massive gunfight followed (some of which was captured by bystanders on video). At some point, Savannah jumped out of the truck and ran toward deputies. She was shot and killed. (At this point, it's not clear whether she was shot by deputies or her father.) Graziano was also killed in the shootout.
When the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department first discussed what went down, Sheriff Shannon Dicus said Savannah was wearing body armor and a tactical helmet. "Evidence suggests that Savannah Graziano was also a participant in shooting at our deputies," Dicus said. He did not at the time get into detail about what that meant or whether she was armed when deputies shot her. Nevertheless, Dicus' suggestion was treated as credible.
Then, L.A.'s ABC7 tweeted that she "shot at deputies before she was killed in a highway shootout between her father—a fugitive wanted in the death of the teen's mother—and law enforcement." This is not what Dicus said. While Dicus was irresponsible for presenting vague information as "evidence" at a press conference, ABC7 compounded the problem by presenting something under investigation as fact.
The latest reports now show that Savannah was likely unarmed at the time that she was killed. After the state attorney general's office took over the investigation of the shooting, it found that the only weapon on the crime scene was an AR-15 recovered in the truck, which is where Graziano was killed.
The sheriff's department is no longer answering questions, directing media to the state attorney general's office for the investigation, according to the L.A. Times. ABC7's irresponsible and inaccurate tweet is still up, and now the news that Savannah was likely not armed is being described by them as a "stunning new twist."
The story is turning out even more complicated. It's not clear anymore whether Savannah was a kidnapping victim at all. Videos and eyewitness testimony from the scene of the mother's killing show that Savannah was there in the back seat of the truck when Graziano shot Martinez. This doesn't necessarily mean she was there voluntarily or was an accomplice (as the sheriff was suggesting). But at the time of the chase, authorities thought Graziano picked up and kidnapped his daughter after shooting Martinez, and that's apparently not the case. Savannah had been living with her father as the couple went through a divorce.
All we do know is that an unarmed teenage girl was shot and killed as she jumped out of a truck and ran toward deputies. The sheriff then spoke vaguely about what might have happened, suggesting that the girl may have been a threat, and some media outlets treated that presumption as fact. Media outlets really, really need to stop doing that.