Police may have heard Marcus Wesson shootings

Neighbors say officers were outside home, took cover when gun fired.

Associated Press/March 18, 2004
By Juliana Barbassa

Fresno -- Fresno's police chief acknowledged Wednesday that his department is investigating whether Marcus Wesson fatally shot nine of his children while police waited outside his house, despite frantic pleas from relatives to intervene.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said even some officers were wondering whether they did the right thing. But Dyer defended authorities' response to what began as a custody dispute.

Police "made what I believe to be an appropriate decision to summon negotiators and a SWAT team to negotiate the situation peacefully without entering the residence and escalating the situation," Dyer said.

Wesson, 57, has been charged with nine counts of murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. The victims include children ages 1 to 17, as well as his 25-year-old daughter, who was the mother of one of the infants killed.

Police have not said exactly when the victims died or what kind of gun was used, and the coroner's office was still preparing its report Wednesday. Officers at the scene said they heard no gunshots, but other witnesses said shots could be heard clearly.

Relatives, who had come to the house to try to get their children, told officers Wesson had a gun and that the children were in danger.

But Dyer said his officers had no immediate reason to believe Wesson was a threat, so they allowed him to disappear into a back room. Hours passed as police tried to make contact with Wesson.

Some neighbors disputed that account, saying officers were present when shots rang out. Maria Elena Leyva, a housewife who lives across the street, reported hearing at least four shots. She pulled her children away from the window as more officers arrived.

"I heard the women shouting and crying," she said in Spanish. "One of the women was crying, 'My baby. My baby.'"

A relative of the victims, sobbing repeatedly during an interview with the AP, said officers missed an opportunity to defuse the situation. "All the kids were alive" when police arrived, said the man, who spoke on condition he not be named. "The guy was just standing there, at the door, with no weapons."

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