In Alliance, young man with a short fuse finally exploded - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:13 am
In Alliance, young man with a short fuse finally exploded

VIDEO: Watch and listen as Ray Hielscher describes the events of a 14-hour armed standoff in downtown Alliance, Neb.

* * *

ALLIANCE, Neb. — Her cellphone rings at noon Tuesday.

It's Andy.

Finally.

But by now, her son has assumed a different identity: He is “the gunman.”

By now, Andres Gonzalez has spent more than three hours in Thiele Pharmacy and Gifts, a business near the corner of the busiest intersection in downtown Alliance.

By now, he has shot Alliance Police Officer Kirk Felker in the arm as Felker ran to the scene of an armed robbery and has shot State Trooper Tim Flick through an interior doorway that connects the pharmacy with an adjacent building.

Alliance Police Officer Matt Shannon has been struck by shrapnel.

But Gonzalez is still holding pharmacy owner Charles Lierk hostage.

The mother knows all this by the time her son calls.

She tells him to free the hostage. Let Charlie go, she says.

“I begged him to please stop,” she says. “I begged him to put down his gun and walk out.”

She waits.

“He said: ‘Mom, I can't deal with this right now. I just called to tell you I love you.'”

The call ends.

***

LorriJo Loch saw the body for the first time Friday.

She said her 27-year-old son was shot in the head by members of the Nebraska State Patrol's SWAT team when they stormed the building about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, ending the standoff after more than 14 hours.

Gonzalez traded gunfire with them at the end, she was told. State Patrol officials have declined to provide details about those final moments, saying the incident must be reviewed by a grand jury.

What's clear is that Gonzalez wounded three officers and the 62-year-old pharmacy owner, shooting him as he escaped from the store and ran for his life.

Gonzalez's actions cost downtown businesses income and fractured a sense of safety in this western Nebraska community of 9,000.

As it turns out, the mayhem in downtown Alliance represented the final, desperate act of a killer.

During the standoff, Gonzalez told his former girlfriend in a phone call that he had killed his father, Larry Gonzalez, a 62-year-old train conductor who appeared to be well-liked in the community. The elder Gonzalez was found dead Tuesday in the Alliance home he shared with his son.

Andres Gonzalez also told police negotiators at one point during the standoff that he had killed Joshua Bullock, 38, of Denver. The former Alliance resident disappeared after an early December return to Nebraska to visit friends and a child.

Gonzalez told authorities he had hidden Bullock's remains in a ravine southeast of Chadron, Neb.

As Loch told her story to The World-Herald in an exclusive interview, she said she and her family are horrified by the events of the past week.

“We do not in any way justify or rationalize,” she said. “We in no way condone Andy's actions that day. But maybe people can understand his motive.

“Why a happy little boy grows up to be an angry young man.”

***

As a preschooler, he was an affectionate child.

Aaron Gonzalez talks about his late brother with their mother, LorriJo Loch, in Alliance, Neb., two days after a standoff ended in the death of Andres Gonzalez. Some of his last cellphone words to Loch were: “I just called to tell you I love you.” REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD

But things changed when he started school, said Loch, 50, who was joined in the interview by her 23-year-old son, Aaron Gonzalez of Chadron, and her brother, Randy Loch, 52, of Alliance.

She says Gonzalez was bullied, mostly because he was overweight. He was repeatedly expelled for fighting and for being disrespectful to teachers. Some of the fights occurred when Gonzalez stuck up for other kids who were being pushed around by bullies, Loch said.

When he was 13, Gonzalez took an unloaded handgun to school. For that, he was expelled for half of seventh grade and all of eighth grade.

As a result of the gun incident, Gonzalez saw a psychologist who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, Loch said. But he mostly refused to stay on medication.

As an adult, she said, Gonzalez also suffered from a disorder called cyclical vomiting syndrome, in which a bout of intense nausea and vomiting strikes without warning and can last as long as 12 hours. He took medication for the disorder, which Loch said seemed to help.

Gonzalez's problems also included drugs. His mother suspects he sold them and knows he was addicted to opiates, particularly oxycodone.

But Loch and her family said he kept his greatest pain to himself.

Andres Gonzalez at 4. In school, the chubby boy was the target of bullies. PHOTO COURTESY OF LORRIJO LOCH

She said Gonzalez recently told a trusted aunt that when he was 6 years old he was sodomized by two other boys, an ordeal that included having human feces smeared on his face. The incident was never reported to police, Loch said.

He also was abused by his father, Loch and her family said.

Although Larry Gonzalez came across as a good guy to friends and co-workers, the family said, he behaved much differently at home.

He verbally and physically abused his sons, yelling at them constantly, picking at perceived shortcomings, punching and pushing them, Aaron Gonzalez said. Larry Gonzalez once kicked Aaron when the boy accidentally bumped him with a shopping cart.

The uncle said he, too, witnessed such abuse.

When Larry Gonzalez's children apologized for setting him off, his reply was always the same.

“There ain't no sorry.”

A Vietnam War veteran who served as an engineer mechanic, Larry Gonzalez owned an array of firearms, including several handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles and two assault rifles. He carried a concealed handgun as often as he could, even at home.

He also taught his oldest son to shoot, starting when the boy was 8, Randy Loch said.

Aaron Gonzalez made no effort to learn marksmanship, but his brother did.

“He sought my father's approval,” Aaron Gonzalez said. “I did not.”

***

Shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Loch is at work at an Alliance nursing home when a co-worker tells her about the standoff. Word has spread quickly that Gonzalez is the gunman.

Rose Siefke

Then she gets a call from Rose Siefke, the 19-year-old from Hemingford, Neb., who dated her son for about a year before breaking up recently.

Siefke says Gonzalez had called her from the pharmacy. He told Siefke he had killed his father, the man to whom Loch was married for nearly 26 years before divorcing in 2009.

After the noon call, which lasted just a few minutes, Loch sends her son a series of text messages, trying everything she can think of to get him to surrender.

We love you.

I need you.

Your grandparents need you.

Your brother needs you.

Shortly after 4 p.m., he calls his mother for the second time.

By the sound of his voice, she can tell he's been taking pills. He tells her he feels pretty good.

“I said, ‘You killed your dad.' ”

It was in self-defense, he replies, his voice sounding more serious now.

He tells her his father was drunk and angry at Gonzalez for selling some of his father's guns. At one point, his father put a gun to his son's head, Gonzalez tells his mother.

Gonzalez shot and killed him, he tells her.

Then he confesses to the Bullock homicide.

He tells Loch that Bullock wanted to steal Siefke, the first and only girlfriend Gonzalez would have.

Gonzalez tells Loch he used Siefke's phone to send Bullock text messages, luring him to his father's house. He shot Bullock in the basement and disposed of the body and truck near Chadron.

“I was crying,” Loch says. “I said ‘I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. I couldn't protect you from all the hurt in your life.'”

She asks him again to surrender. Let Charlie go.

He doesn't respond.

“What are you doing?” she says she asked.

“He said ‘Mom, you know what I'm doing.'”

The phone goes dead.

At that moment, she knows he won't be coming out of the pharmacy alive.

***

From his Radio Shack store, Ray Hielscher witnessed the 14-hour standoff at Thiel Pharmacy, where pharmacy owner Charles Lierk was held hostage before escaping. REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD

About 4:30 p.m., Ray Hielscher sees the pharmacist run out the front door of Thiele Pharmacy and Gifts.

He hears what might be a shot and sees Lierk grab an arm as he is struck by a bullet.

Except for law enforcement, Hielscher has the best view of the events from the windows of his Radio Shack store, catty-cornered from the pharmacy.

As the next four hours drag into darkness, crowds gather behind barricades placed about three blocks from the pharmacy.

Loch sends more texts.

At 9:30 p.m., her son calls.

“A little scared boy called me. He screamed with fear: ‘Mom!' ”

And the call ends.

About 10 p.m., Hielscher sees SWAT team members gather in a business driveway. They are focused on the two-story brick building adjacent to Thiele's.

He knows that an interior hallway connects the brick building with the pharmacy.

He watches five officers wearing black body armor and helmets line up along the exterior wall of the brick building, which houses a Nebraska Workforce Development office. The lead officer carries a shield as they move cautiously in a crouched position toward a door at the back of the building.

One officer uses a mirror attached to a telescoping rod to peer inside. Then an officer tosses something through the doorway. After a few moments, a second toss.

This time, Hielscher sees a flash and hears a loud blast. Then shooting, followed by what appear to be shots from inside the building breaking glass from the top half of the door.

Four of the five officers run into the building. Hielscher hears a barrage of gunshots.

For about 45 minutes, all is quiet. Then he hears one final boom.

An officer comes out, removes his helmet and wipes sweat from his brow.

It's over.

***

Loch learns the next day that her son is dead. She finds out from a friend who was mistakenly called by the State Patrol. A patrol investigator later apologizes for the mix-up.

A State Patrol official who was involved in the standoff response also tells her they did all they could to talk her son out of the pharmacy.

While his family members feared that Andres Gonzalez's actions would make them the pariahs of Alliance, that hasn't been the case. Townspeople have been gracious and compassionate, bringing by enough food to last for months.

“This family feels the pain of all the victims,” Randy Loch said. “We pray for those people.”

It's too soon to say whether lessons will be learned, but one lesson might be to talk about abuse, Loch says. Hiding it only leaves the damage unrepaired.

“What he did with the anger was his decision,” she says. “He understood right from wrong. He made a decision. Did he make it rationally or irrationally? I can't tell. But Andy still went in on his own accord.”

Aaron Gonzalez said he is now haunted by questions about what he could have done differently. He sent a text of his own to Gonzalez Tuesday, saying he loved him.

“I only wish I could have been a better brother.”

Contact the writer:

402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

Ray Hielscher describes the events of a 14-hour armed standoff, which he witnessed while locked down in his nearby Radio Shack in downtown Alliance, Neb.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

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