Long Beach, CA – The gunman accused of shooting an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in the back of the head while he was waiting for his order at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Alhambra on Monday has been arrested.
Utah resident Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 30, was apprehended on Tuesday morning in Long Beach, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Nelson, who has been missing from St. George, Utah for weeks, has also been accused of fatally shooting another man within an hour of the unprovoked attack on Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Solano.
Deputy Solano remains in “grave condition” on life support at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, officials said on Tuesday.
The brazen attack occurred at approximately 5:45 p.m. on June 10, as the off-duty deputy was waiting for his food to be ready at the fast food restaurant on Valley Boulevard, ABC News reported.
Deputy Solano, a 13-year veteran-of-the-force, was wearing street clothes when he was shot, and wasn’t displaying a holster, badge, or anything else to indicate he was a law enforcement officer, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) Captain Kent Wegener, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The gunman fled the scene after shooting the deputy, and a neighborhood security camera captured video of him changing his clothes nearby a short while later.
Authorities also quickly circulated pictures of the suspect taken from cameras inside and outside the restaurant, as well as a shot of the white Kia SUV he was driving when he fled.
“There doesn’t appear to be an overt motive,” Capt. Wegener said shortly after the attack. “There is no audio to the video, so we don’t know if there were words exchanged. At this point we are interviewing witnesses that were at the scene and reviewing evidence…at the scene.”
He warned that anyone who aided or hid the suspect could be charged.
“It’s time to turn him in,” Capt. Wegener said. “You don’t want to be associated with this man, and the sheriff’s department is going to spare no resources to locate this suspect.”
Investigators honed in on Nelson after they received a phone call from Nelson’s father in Utah, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Bradley Nelson told Long Beach police that his son called him and spoke of “committing murder in Southern California,” and referenced having killed two people.
Police were able to trace the number the accused gunman called from to a local church.
When they arrived, they spotted a Kia Sorrento driving away from the scene.
The SUV matched the description of the getaway vehicle the shooter used after the attack on Deputy Solano.
Nelson stopped his vehicle in the 2400-Block of Granada Avenue, and was taken into custody without further incident.
Investigators subsequently located a revolver inside the SUV.
Deputy Solano, 50, initially joined LACSD in 1999, but left to take a position with the Alhambra Fire Department one year later, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
In 2006, Deputy Solano returned to LACSD, and was assigned to the custody division.
“He definitely was a kindhearted, generous, person…we’re all rooting for him to make a recovery,” Sheriff Villanueva said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said his department is also working to determine whether or not Nelson was responsible for fatally shooting a 30-year-old man in the 1900-block of East 7th Place less than an hour before Deputy Solano was shot.
The victim of the fatal attack was shot following a “brief exchange” with someone in a vehicle, Chief Moore said.
The description of the vehicle and the gunman’s clothing matched those of Nelson.
The accused gunman’s father released a statement in the aftermath of Nelson’s arrest.
“My wife Jean and I, along with our family, are saddened beyond words to hear of the shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano, and to learn that our son Rhett is being held in connection with this horrifying and senseless attack,” Bradley said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bradley said that his son, who has a history of opiate abuse, left home in late May without his laptop or any of his clothing.
They tried to contact him on his cell phone, but it was either dead or off, he explained.
“Rhett has been missing since May 26, 2019, leading us to file a missing person’s report with authorities,” Bradley said. “We have spent much time and effort in an attempt to help Rhett and bring him home safely, and we have been distraught and worried since his disappearance.”
“We are cooperating fully with authorities and will provide them with all information they request concerning Rhett and his struggles,” he continued. “We ask that people please pray for Deputy Solano and his family.”
Capt. Wegener said that Nelson arrived in the area of Southern California in early June, but that it is unknown why he wound up there.