SUNNYSIDE — Relatives of the man fatally shot by police outside a convenience store Wednesday said they don’t know what prompted Ramon Ayala Jr., 27, to fire a gun into the air at the corner of Tacoma and Harrison avenues.
“We don’t understand why,” said cousin Belen Ramos on Thursday morning as she and family members looked over the scene of Sunnyside’s third officer-involved shooting in two years.
Ramos lives at the same intersection and watched her cousin fall near a phone booth on the sidewalk outside the TW Market, she said.
Sunnyside police shared few details about the incident, including why Ayala was firing a gun in the air.
“It’s part of the investigation,” said Sgt. Joey Glossen.
Police responded about 4 p.m. Wednesday to find Ayala near the phone booth firing shots and ordered him to drop his weapon, police said. But Ayala turned the gun toward an officer, who shot him, police said.
Ayala was declared dead at 4:45 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Hospital.
An autopsy Thursday showed Ayala died of a single gunshot wound to the chest that struck his heart, a lung and an aorta, said Jack Hawkins, Yakima County coroner.
Police have not released the name of the officer who shot Ayala. He is on paid administrative leave, which is procedure when law enforcement officers are involved in shootings. Police have asked the Washington State Patrol to investigate the incident, which also is routine.
Lt. Tom Foster of the State Patrol referred all questions to Sunnyside police.
Police and relatives of Ayala said the incident was not gang-related.
Ayala was born in Sunnyside and was a resident of Outlook, an unincorporated community just west of town, according to his death notice from Valley Hills Funeral Home. He lived in the Sunnyside area most of his life and worked various jobs at fast food restaurants.
However, he had been living in California until just a couple of weeks ago, said his brother Pedro Ayala, who took pictures of the scene Thursday morning.
He had two children, a boy and a girl, in Orland, Calif., a city of 7,000 about 100 miles north of Sacramento, Pedro Ayala said. He said the brothers, siblings in a family of seven, had not spoken much in several years.
The owner of the TW Market said he did not believe the store had been struck by any bullets.
He also did not believe Ayala had entered the store, a popular snack stop that anchors a residential neighborhood a couple of blocks southwest of the hospital.
The owner, who asked that his complete name not be published, also said customers and neighbors called after the shooting to make sure he was unharmed.
“I treat everybody nice,” he said. “I don’t have trouble with nobody.”
Sunnyside’s most recent previous officer-involved shooting was in April last year when officers fired on 27-year-old Marcus Anthony Torres after they said he pointed a gun at them during a traffic stop. Nobody was injured during the incident and the shooting was found to be justified.
In April 2011, four officers opened fire and killed Jose Campuzano, 23, when they said he took out a handgun and fired on officers as he was being taken into custody. It was thought to be the first time Sunnyside police had ever shot anybody. The Yakima County prosecutor determined the shooting was justified.
• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.