HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – A bloody, shirtless man with what appeared to be a broken wine bottle turned a balmy evening of soccer practice and batting cages into a scene of chaos and panic.
It didn’t end until police shot and killed him.
A man later identified by authorities as Steven Schlitz, 29, followed an adult soccer player over a 3-foot barrier and onto a soccer field at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex where children were practicing Thursday night and began chasing the kids with the bottle, witnesses said.
As screams filled the air and children climbed fences to escape, Schiltz moved toward a woman on the bleachers who appeared frozen with fear, said Jose Sanchez, a coach whose team of 13-year-olds was practicing on the field.
Two police officers opened fire, killing Schiltz.
“I feel like the cops tried not to shoot him and when they did it was because they had to,” Sanchez told The Associated Press. “He was going toward her, and you could see he was about to start swinging. … One more second, and he would have struck her.”
There were about 200 people at the facility that includes eight softball fields and seven soccer fields.
As the bizarre scene unfolded, Sanchez said two adult soccer players tried to topple a 6-by-8-foot soccer goal onto Schiltz to stop him. He continued toward Sanchez’s team and another team of 11-year-old boys.
“I started yelling to the girls to jump over the fence, and we started tossing some girls over,” Sanchez said.
“I was looking around to see if I could find something to grab onto, to protect myself,” he said. “I didn’t really have anything. After getting the girls over, the only thing I could do was put my hands out and hopefully that would delay him or get him to come to me instead of the girls.”
As the kids were scrambling over the fence, Sanchez said Schiltz was stumbling around when a police officer arrived with gun drawn.
A parent then showed up with some sort of stick and chased Schiltz away from the area where the children were, Sanchez said. Schiltz ran toward a set of bleachers, prompting two parents and their children to make a run for it while a woman remained behind.
Sanchez said two offers yelled to Schiltz to “drop it, drop it,” and when he moved toward the woman they opened fire.
Schiltz was shot three times, but he was still moving toward the woman so the officers shot him three or four more times, Sanchez said.
Huntington Beach police confirmed both officers opened fire and said the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is investigating and seeking to interview more witnesses.
Schiltz’s mother, Angela Hernandez, told KCBS-TV that her son had drug issues and was in a psychiatric ward last year. Court records show she took out a restraining order against him in 2013 and she said he threatened relatives with knives, baseball bats, pool sticks and chairs.
But Hernandez said she spoke to him hours before the shooting and he sounded fine. She accused the police of overreacting.
“To me, it was excessive force,” Hernandez told the AP. “He was good-hearted. He would never go after kids.”
Schiltz was known to friends as “Steve-o” and was a baseball fan. At times, he lived on the streets, said Tom Hester, a homeless friend who said he saw Schiltz bicycling to the park just before the violence.
“He had a drinking problem, and when he drank he got real violent,” Hester said.