SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A mother loading her 2-year-old son into an SUV used her body to protect the toddler before she was shot and killed in an ensuing midday gunbattle at a Sacramento strip mall, sheriff's officials said Wednesday.
Monique Nelson, 30, had just strapped her son into his car seat when she was struck in the chest Tuesday, and detectives believe she positioned herself to protect her son, Sacramento County Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran said.
"She was found with her body over the young child," he said. "So we believe she did hear the gunfire."
A second victim, 20-year-old Marvion Barksdale, also died from injuries suffered in the shootout after being taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery for a chest wound, Curran said Wednesday. Five other men were injured in the gunfight. All are expected to survive.
Nelson died at the scene, where Metro Fire and sheriff department personnel attempted to entertain her son following the shooting. The child was unharmed and has been reunited with family members, according to authorities.
Family members did not immediately return a phone message left Wednesday at their bookstore, where Nelson worked as a supervisor, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Nelson's brother, Richard Nelson, told the newspaper his sister was "bubbly, outgoing, always had a smile on her face."
He said her biggest passion was her son.
"All about her son. She loved her son dearly," he said. "She was a good mother."
Detectives believe at least one gunman entered the Fly Cuts & Styles barber shop just before 1 p.m. and began shooting. At least one person inside the shop returned fire.
Curran said the ensuing gunbattle transitioned into the parking lot. Detectives have recovered bullets from four firearms, including one rifle, he told reporters Wednesday. One handgun was recovered but police aren't sure if it was used in the shooting.
A number of homicides have occurred in south Sacramento, the site of Tuesday's shooting, but there is no known history of violence at the barber shop, Curran said. Authorities were still investigating the crime Wednesday, and said they had no motive for it.
The sheriff's department identified its first suspect as 24-year-old Lonnie Orlando Mitchell of Sacramento and warned residents to consider him armed and dangerous.
Detectives say they believe Mitchell was involved in the shooting but cannot say whether he was responsible for firing the shots that killed Nelson or Barksdale. He faces charges of assault with a deadly weapon and parole violation.
Curran said Nelson had visited a one-hour photo shop in the shopping center before briefly stopping into the barber shop to say hello to people she knew there. Curran described the barbershop as a "social gathering place" for many people and said Nelson would bring her son there to get his hair cut.
"We believe there are many people out there who were involved in the shooting and they will be held accountable. We need people withholding information to know that they can come forward," Curran said. "Bottom line: we have a completely innocent victim who was shot."
One man who was arrested early Wednesday as part of the investigation into the shooting was found not directly involved in the shooting. Curran said the man had other outstanding issues.
A 28-year old man who was wounded in the shoulder and leg, and a 46-year-old man who was shot in the stomach remained hospitalized Wednesday, Curran said.
A 37-year-old man who was wounded in the leg and a 20-year-old man who was shot in the chest were treated and released. They were only associated with the shootout later Tuesday, Curran said, after leaving the strip mall and being dropped off at separate hospitals.
A 39-year-old man also suffered a grazing wound to the ankle and was treated by paramedics at the scene.
Authorities said they have not identified which of the injured victims might be suspects.
Although it's likely gang members were involved, authorities do not believe the shooting was directly related to gang activity, Curran said.
"There were undoubtedly people involved that were gang members. But as far as this being a classic gang shooting ... that's not what this was at all," he said.
Curran said two dozen people were playing games in a back room of the shop when the shooting occurred. He said detectives have spoken to about 20 people and they are not cooperating as much as they should for fear of retaliation.
"(Detectives) are getting variations of the same story," he said.
Tuesday's shooting happened about a block from where a 22-year-old man was shot execution-style in January as he ate lunch at a restaurant. Police believe that case was gang-related but it remains unsolved.