The mysterious death of a woman found fatally shot in the yard of a Fresno County home was the result of her confrontation with a man experiencing delusions about space aliens, the sheriff’s office said.
That man was himself fatally shot by deputies three weeks later during a standoff at his parents’ home.
The investigation that connected the two incidents was detailed in a news conference Thursday by the Fresno County sheriff’s office.
The killing of Amanda Berry was initially baffling, with few clues as to shooter or motive. The 44-year-old woman was found slain around 7:15 a.m. on Nov. 17 in the yard of a home near the east edge of Fresno. A flashlight lay near her, and a neighbor reported having heard a gunshot around midnight.
Hours after the death was discovered, Berry’s boyfriend saw workers repairing a cellphone tower next to the property. They told him it had been vandalized around midnight, causing an outage.
Sheriff’s investigators returned to search the area around the tower, and they found a note handwritten in red pen that contained what they characterized as “anti-government types of messages.” Surveillance video showed someone on a bike had been in the area around midnight; flashes of light on the video were thought to be sparks from a grinding tool used to damage the tower.
At the news conference, Assistant Sheriff John Zanoni said the vandal apparently believed the tower was being used by space aliens who were trying to enter his body.
Investigators theorized that Berry had been killed when she went out to investigate the intrusion.
The discovery of the alleged shooter came three weeks later, after deputies confronted an armed man on Dec. 6 in a neighborhood two miles from the homicide scene.
A deputy called by a report of gunfire around 2 a.m. said a pedestrian shot his patrol car and then fled into a house. About an hour later, as deputies surrounded the house, they heard the sound of metal grinding, then yelling and an explosion. A team that entered the house discovered a strong odor of gas, and they rescued a couple who had barricaded themselves in a room.
Around 5:15, deputies found an armed suspect outside the house. He ignored commands to drop the two knives he was carrying, and deputies fatally shot him, the sheriff’s office said.
The slain man was identified as Dennis Happawana, 32, son of the couple who had been rescued from the home. Deputies say he had caused a five-gallon propane tank to explode and had also punctured a 500-gallon propane tank on the property.
In the outbuilding where Happawana had been staying, investigators found notes in red pen similar to that found at the cell tower. Ballistics tests matched his 9mm handgun to the casing found at the scene of Berry’s killing.
Happawana’s parents reportedly told investigators that their son had suffered a decline in mental health since an injury during a car wreck 10 years previous, when he was a student at the University of California, Riverside. He had become extremely paranoid and refused medication or other treatment of his mental illness, they said.
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