Rhett McKenzie Nelson is in custody after an off-duty sheriff’s deputy was shot in the head while waiting for food at a Jack in the Box restaurant around 10 miles east of Los Angeles in Alhambra on June 10. The shooting occurred at around 5:45 p.m. local time. Nelson, 30, has been missing from his home in St. George, Utah, since May 26.
The wounded officer has been named as Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano, 50. At the time of writing, Solano remains on life support, according to the sheriff’s department. Authorities said that when Solano was shot, he was dressed in civilian clothing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Motive for the Shooting Remains Unclear
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva discussed the arrest during an afternoon press conference on June 11. Nelson was picked up around 10:40 a.m. by the Long Beach Police Department after observing a vehicle in the 2400 block of Granada Avenue in Long Beach, which matched the description of the suspect responsible for the shooting, a white-colored Kia Sorrento SUV with paper plates. Inside the vehicle, authorities said that they found a revolver, along with the maroon shirt and hat the suspect was shown to be wearing on the surveillance video. Nelson was arrested around 30 miles south of where Deputy Solano was shot.
The suspect is currently in custody for questioning as the motive for the shooting remains unclear. “The shooting is on video. There doesn’t appear to be an overt motive. There is no audio to the video, so we don’t know if there were words exchanged,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Captain Kent Wegner told the media.
2. Nelson Is the Prime Suspect in Another Shooting That Occurred Close to Where Deputy Solano Was Shot
Police mentioned that he’s also the suspect of the fatal shooting of another man in the Westlake District of Los Angeles that same night. KTLA reports that Nelson was in a largely commercial neighborhood when he “exchanged words” with the driver of a car. That confrontation resulted in the other person being shot dead, the station said in their report. That shooting occurred around an hour before Deputy Solano was shot. The victim in the Westlake District shooting has been described as being 30 years old.
Sheriff’s Captain Kent Wegener said that Nelson was arrested after he called his father from a church in Long Beach to say that he had committed “murder in Southern California.” Nelson’s father contacted police who traced the phone call and were then able to locate the suspect.
3. Nelson’s Family Has Said That He Has a History of Opiate Abuse
Before his arrest, Nelson was reported as a missing person in Utah and his family was concerned for his whereabouts, officials said. Fliers had been posted about Nelson’s disappearance on social media from parents Bradley and Jean Nelson, along with his sister, Kitty. In a Facebook post on May 30, Nelson’s father wrote that his son was last seen on May 26. Bradley Nelson wrote that the suspect left home with nothing but his phone, which had since died, leaving his clothes and computer behind. The post concluded with the lines, “He has a history of opiate abuse and has been clean for about 6 months, but we know what a terrible struggle that is. We are praying for his safe return.” Captain Wegener said that Nelson first came to the Southern California-area in the first week of June.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Bradley Nelson said, “My wife Jean and I, along with our family, are saddened beyond words to hear of the shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano, and to learn that our son Rhett is being held in connection with this horrifying and senseless attack. Rhett has been missing since May 26, 2019, leading us to file a missing person’s report with authorities. We have spent much time and effort in an attempt to help Rhett and bring him home safely, and we have been distraught and worried since his disappearance. We are cooperating fully with authorities and will provide them with all information they request concerning Rhett and his struggles. We ask that people please pray for Deputy Solano and his family.”
4. Nelson Wrote on Facebook in July 2018, ‘Police Are Half the Problem’
Nelson was a prolific Facebook poster. Many of his posts deal with conspiracy theories, including an apparent belief that the earth is flat. In a July 2018 post, Nelson wrote, “People need help and the police are half the problem. They’re as corrupt, if not more, than anyone. Who wants to talk solutions? I’m a computer guy. #FightBackAmerica.” In the wake of his arrest, Nelson’s Facebook post has been besieged with hateful comments.
5. Deputy Solano Is Listed as Being in ‘Grave Condition’
Deputy Solano, a veteran of the department for 13 years, was immediately transferred to Los Angeles County USC Medical Center, where he remains in critical condition. The deputy had apparently gone for an oil change at a nearby Jiffy Lube and then went to the restaurant while waiting for the car service. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the media that Deputy Solano was a “kind-hearted, generous person.” Solano was in the Jack in the Box to get food while the oil was being changed on his mother’s car. Prior to Nelson’s arrest, Sheriff Villanueva tweeted, “Our #LASD family continues to persevere in the wake of the senseless shooting of our deputy. Our hearts & minds are solemnly united w/those who hold him dear. Whomever carried out this cowardly attack; we won’t rest until we find you & ensure justice is brought swiftly upon you.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that Deputy Solano joined the sheriff’s department first in 1999 before leaving for the Alhambra Fire Department in 2000. He would return to the sheriff’s department in 2006 and had been working in the custody division.