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Gunman used powerful semi-automatic weapon in shooting of California Highway Patrol officer, source says

Richard Winton and Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- The man who authorities say got into a gunbattle with police off the 215 Freeway on Monday, killing CHP Officer Andre Moye and wounding two others, appears to have been armed with a powerful semi-automatic weapon, officials say.

Investigators described the gun used in the massive firefight only as a rifle, but a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told the Los Angeles Times that Aaron Luther used an "AR-15-style rifle" in the fatal gun battle. The source spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly.

An AR-15 can be modified to use large magazines and shoots small but high-velocity bullets. The .223-caliber rounds often shatter inside victims' bodies, creating more devastating injuries than wounds typically left by larger but lower-velocity handgun rounds.

Luther, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal background, would not have been allowed to possess a firearm under California law because of his criminal record. Court records show Luther pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder and two counts of burglary in Los Angeles County in 1994. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and granted parole in 2004, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The Beaumont resident also had been convicted of disturbing the peace, vandalism, battery, stalking, unlawful possession of a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon and corporal injury on a spouse in the past, officials said.

Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said the gun battle that ultimately killed Moye, 34, was "long and horrific," leaving investigators with multiple crime scenes to examine. Moye, who had been with the CHP for almost three years, was airlifted to a hospital in Moreno Valley after the shootout, where he was pronounced dead. The two other CHP officers wounded in the shootout are expected to recover, said Inland Division Chief Bill Dance.

The deadly encounter began at 5:35 p.m. when Moye stopped Luther, who was driving a white GMC pickup, at the Eastridge Avenue/Eucalyptus Avenue offramp. At some point during the traffic stop -- for reasons not yet known -- Moye decided to impound the man's vehicle and called for a tow truck, said CHP Inland Division Assistant Chief Scott Parker.

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It was not immediately clear where Luther was heading when he was stopped. While Moye was filling out paperwork, the man got a rifle from his truck and started shooting at the officer, Parker said.

"We don't know why" the shooting began, Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said. "That is all going to be part of this lengthy investigation."

Moye returned fire, and even though he had been shot, he was able to radio for help. Three other CHP officers soon arrived, followed by three deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and at least one officer from the Riverside Police Department, authorities said. Luther was killed during the exchange.

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