Equipped with eye and ear protection, a tactical vest, orange gloves and an AR-15 in his hands, murder suspect Bruce Hansberry tried every doorknob of a small office building at an RV business where he had already killed one man, critically injured another and was looking for more people to finish off, a prosecutor and Cochise County sheriff’s detectives said Friday at a court hearing.
While that mayhem was going on at Desert RV in Huachuca City on Monday afternoon, according to investigators, Hansberry’s 8-month-old daughter had been left alone for hours in a dark and cold apartment in Sierra Vista, with no food and wearing only a diaper. When she was found by Sierra Vista Police after 11 p.m. Monday, the baby’s diaper was full and her feet had turned purple because of the cold weather, a sheriff’s detective said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. John Gjerde testified at Hansberry’s bail eligibility hearing Friday in Cochise County Superior Court Judge Timothy Dickerson’s courtroom that the baby would have died if she had not been found. There was no heat in the apartment. It was about 40 degrees outside or colder, and the child had been left in those conditions for at least six hours, Gjerde said.
The 37-year-old Hansberry is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, fleeing from law enforcement and child abuse.
Investigators said he killed 47-year-old Desert RV employee Robert Lizarraga and critically injured Lizarraga’s 18-year-old nephew, Jordan Barajas, who also worked at the business. Barajas is recovering from his gunshot wounds at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson.
What has confounded Deputy Cochise County Attorney Michael Powell and sheriff’s detectives who testified at Friday’s proceeding the most is, what was Hansberry’s motive?
From all the evidence collected thus far, as well as interviews with Hansberry and the employees at Desert RV in Huachuca City, no one has any connections to the suspect.
Yet on Monday afternoon just 15 minutes before the business closed, everyone at Desert RV became familiar with Hansberry after he went on his rampage, investigators said. The suspect exited the business only after owner Jeff Rose went outside with his own firearm and confronted Hansberry, shooting at him, but not striking him with a bullet, sheriff’s officials said.
The shootings occurred Monday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. The business is aptly named because it’s in the desert off State Route 90 on Redwing Lane.
While the surroundings are stark, with not much else around, the business became a scene of terror on Monday just before closing time when investigators said Hansberry came to the RV store and killed Lizarraga and shot Barajas. The two men had started working at Desert RV a few weeks prior.
“The motive is completely unknown,” Powell told Dickerson at the proceeding. “Motive? Who knows?”
What is known is that earlier that day, Hansberry had gone to Desert RV alone and spoke with a female employee briefly, then to owner Jeff Rose. Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said Hansberry was “acting like a customer.”
At one point Rose had to break away and help another individual. Hansberry asked him what time they closed and Rose replied at 5:30 p.m.
At 5:15 p.m. that same afternoon, Hansberry returned, Powell said, looking to kill whomever he could.
Sheriff’s Detective Alexander Dolhyj said Hansberry entered the business through the front gate area. The business is an open four-acre lot with a small office building at the south end and another building next to it where repairs and detailing are done. The property is fenced in and the two structures face several recreational vehicles that are parked in rows on gravel.
An aerial view of the business was shown on a large TV screen in the courtroom. The office building has a handful of surveillance cameras that caught images of Hansberry on the grounds.
The cameras also captured the moments when Hansberry shot Lizarraga and Barajas, investigators said.
Dolhyj testified that Hansberry entered through the front gate of the business, but then in a “stealthy and unnoticed manner” ended up at the side of the office building.
He first encountered Barajas, who was working in an area outside where RVs are detailed, Dolhyj said.
“He (Hansberry) said something about ‘Where is she?’ “ Dolhyj said. ”And Barajas had no idea what he was talking about.”
He shot the teenager in the back and when Barajas fell, Dolhyj said Hansberry stood over the younger man and shot him in the face.
Lizarraga, who was nearby getting into his truck, drove his vehicle toward Hansberry in an attempt to run him over and the suspect opened fire on Lizarraga, Dolhyj said, leaving seven bullet holes in the truck. He killed Lizarraga on the spot, the detective said.
The suspect also fired three times at a female employee who had run to help Barajas but missed, investigators said.
In the meantime, another employee, Angel Torres, was running around inside the office building locking all the doors to prevent Hansberry from coming in. The image on the courtroom TV screen showed Hansberry walking outside that building trying each doorknob in an attempt to get inside.
Owner Rose grabbed his own firearm and confronted Hansberry outside. Once again the suspect uttered “Where is she?” Dolhyj said.
Rose fired at Hansberry and the suspect bolted from the area.
Investigators said he got into a small black car and took off. Two police officers who were close by began pursuing Hansberry, lights and sirens blaring, but he would not pull over. Finally, the suspect stopped, jumped out of his vehicle and bolted into the desert, investigators said.
It would take another four hours and about 100 law enforcement officers from 10 agencies to find Hansberry in the desert off State Route 82 near Tombstone, about 2 miles south of Desert RV, investigators said. A Border Patrol drone was deployed to assist in the search, investigators said Friday.
Investigators found a tactical-style backpack with clothing and food inside Hansberry’s car, Dolhyj said. Detectives learned the suspect had been in the Army and a member of the infantry.
Powell said Hansberry’s training came in handy in the deadly Monday incident at Desert RV, one that even Dickerson called “irrational violence.”
The most impactful part of Friday’s almost two-hour hearing came from the people who witnessed the carnage at a place where they thought they were safe — their jobsite.
Some of the employees who spoke told Hansberry they hoped he would rot and never see the light of day.
Rose, the owner of the business, was the first to speak. He called Hansberry a coward and told him he had hurt many families, including the suspect’s own daughter who would now be left without a father. It’s unclear where the baby’s mother is.
“Robert was gunned down in cold-blooded murder as he went to the aid of his nephew,” Rose said.
Lizarraga’s other nephew, Dave Lizarraga, spoke as well.
“I want to look you in the eye,” he said. “He deserves the death penalty in my eyes. My name is Dave Lizarraga. Remember that.”
Perhaps the most poignant statement came from one of the employees who had his 3-year-old son with him at the workplace that afternoon and had to run for cover with the toddler in tow.
“My son said to me, ‘I don’t want you dead daddy,’ “ said the employee, who was identified by his initials. “It was the most terrifying moment of my life.”
Hansberry’s attorney, Joshua Jones of the Cochise County Legal Advocate’s Office, suggested that Hansberry had never been violent in the past and that maybe he could wear an ankle monitor and attend therapy. Jones said he did not believe his client would be dangerous to society or the victims and that he should be released from the county jail.
Jones said no one had really identified the man who was on the surveillance video walking around the property with the AR-15 and that the prosecution had failed to meet its burden on the first three charges lodged against Hansberry. Jones said the child abuse charge was the only one he could not argue against.
But Powell forcefully told the judge that the sheriff’s detectives had identified Hansberry, as had the employees from Desert RV, especially Rose who had come face to face with the defendant.
Dickerson agreed and said there was probable cause that the defendant had committed all four offenses and should be held at the Cochise County Jail without bond.
Powell said it was a “good thing that Hansberry was not a good shooter” because we would have had many more counts of first-degree murder.”
He said Hansberry went to Desert RV with one intent — to kill.
“He was going to eliminate every single person on that property,” Powell said. ”He was hunting these people.”