Dennis Hughes, 41, went on a shooting rampage Wednesday in San Francisco's Tenderloin, at Post and Hyde streets, using at least two handguns to fire shots at random from his girlfriend's apartment, police said today.
At about 10 p.m., less than two hours after police located Hughes, the armed killer was gunned down by police snipers perched atop a nearby rooftop, because authorities said he "posed a significant threat to public safety."
Police — roughly 100 officers were on scene — described the bizzare scene at a morning press conference in San Francisco, just minutes from the apartment building on the 800 block of Post Street — where Hughes found refuge after killing his mother. Rohnert Park police found Dianne Hughes bludgeoned to death by her son Tuesday afternoon, after family members made repeated worried calls to police asking for officers to check on her.
They hadn't heard from her in days, authorities said. Police were unable to confirm the type of object Hughes used to beat his mother to death, as of 2:45 p.m. Thursday.
They confirmed some of the incident's sordid details.
"We received a call from the daughter and sister of Dianne Hughes. They'd asked us to check the house to see if she's OK because they hadn't heard from her in two days which was unusual," said Brian Masterson, the city's director of public safety. "Upon entering, we found Dianne slumped over. She was deceased, lying in a large pool of blood. We noticed she had a lot of trauma to the front of her head. At that point we knew we had a homicide."
An autoposy confirmed that the 66-year-old longtime Rohnert Park resident suffered blunt force trauma to her head, Masterson said.
Masterson couldn't confirm a motive, but said Dennis, who lived at home with his mother, was reportedly angered.
"All we know from family members there was some tension between Dennis and mom, and mom was asking Dennis to move out," Masterson said. "I don't know what the source of the tension or the arguments were."
Authorities said three detectives from Rohnert Park Public Safety along with a cadre of San Francisco police arrived on scene at Dennis's girlfriend's apartment, and asked him to come out.
Detectives went to the apartment, knocked at the door, and saw that his girlfriend, who was only identified as Mary, was ashen and white, police said.
"She seemed very stressed, very anxious," Masterson added. "We never saw Dennis. At some point, he started to shoot through the walls, at which point our officers moved out of harm's way."
Masterson said that's when snipers took aim at the suspect. He's already fired between 10 and 20 rounds, and lit the bedroom on fire. It had burned through to the bottom apartment by the time police opened fire. SWAT and the San Francisco Fire Department were on scene, and about 180 nearby residents had been evacuated for safety, police said.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr confirmed the incident.
The officers retreated from the apartment and called for backup, and began evacuating residents from the building, Suhr said.
"Snipers had a clear view, they shot and they killed him because he posed a severe threat to public safety," Masterson said.
He said San Francisco will conduct the autopsy of Dennis Hughes.
"I don't think that there's anything that anyone could have done in this case," Masterson said, reflecting on the killing. "It's unfortunate anytime you lose a longstanding member of the community. It's sad even what happened last night with Dennis."
He continued: "Our job is to preserve life, keep the peace — but sometimes for the greater good...police had to shoot and kill Dennis to protect the people who lived in the apartment complex."
"One thing it does kind of give us closure," he added. "People in Rohnert Park shouldn't feel unsafe."
One San Francisco police officer was injured in the standoff, and was taken to a hospital for treatment and released. No other injuries were reported.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose district includes the neighborhood where the standoff happened, said at the news conference
that the fact that no one else was seriously hurt "is a testament to work of
our men and women in uniform."
Two handguns were recovered from inside the apartment, Suhr said. Hughes' girlfriend is being interviewed by investigators today.
A white Toyota Highlander that belonged to Dianne Hughes was found parked in the area after the standoff.
The officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the San Francisco Police Department's homicide detail, its internal affairs division, the San Francisco district attorney's and medical examiner's offices and the city's Office of Citizen Complaints.
Bay City News contributed to this report.