Officers search East Bay hills for two gunmen

July 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Law enforcement officers from eight agencies spent Tuesday searching for two gunmen who opened fire on an East Bay Parks police officer. They combed the remote terrain near the Upper San Leandro Reservoir near Moraga.

Officers believe the gunmen were protecting an illegal marijuana grow, probably operated by the Mexican drug cartel. As a precaution, park officials closed one hiking trail. While some who live in the area say they still feel safe, others are unnerved by the incident.

"We're concerned because we've been warned by people supposedly in the know, you know, 'Hey, stay away. Those guys are heavily armed' and so we've been nervous," said Suellen Winegar of Moraga.

Search teams did not say whether they found anything or anyone during Tuesday's manhunt.

The rescue effort and search Monday night was considered so dangerous, police asked people who live in south Moraga to stay inside their homes just in case.

"It's pretty scary, I locked all the doors last night," said Kathy Wicker of Moraga.

Officers from several agencies searched on the ground and from up above for the people who shot at the Parks police officer. When they didn't find anything, they pulled back and decided to spend today regrouping before they head back in. They say there's a good chance the people who shot at the officer are protecting a drug operation.

"The officer was shot at with rifle fire, so we don't take that lightly. We will go in tactically prepared to return to the area. It is heavily wooded with lots of concealment and cover. So it will be an exhaustive plan of operation that we'll be dealing with," said East Bay Regional Park Police Capt. Mark Ruppenthal.

Last night's incident was all the talk in Moraga this morning. Greg Rubenstein says his dad hikes in the area at least once a week.

"We were talking about it this morning and he was saying 'I don't know how anybody could possibly grow a marijuana farm out there,' or as he says, it is so remote he's never come across a cop back there or anything," said Greg Rubenstein of Moraga.

But police say there are hundreds of acres in the San Leandro watershed; it stretches from the southern border of Moraga to Castro Valley.

"We have pictures of armed guards on these marijuana grows and with that and as a result we do take this as a tactical operation," said Ruppenthal.

Wicker says according to what she heard in her exercise class this morning, she isn't surprised this happened.

"Some of the ladies in there who live closer to the canyon area said they hear rifles, semi-automatics sometimes at night. So I think this has been going on for awhile," said Wicker.

The officer who was shot at was just on patrol in the area and is okay. The trails are open and officers said hike at your own risk. They also said that those who run these operations don't want to be found and are typically not in areas that are near the public.


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