Six Dead In Desert Shooting Slaughter Three Miles From Shadow Mountain Mine

In the largest mass killing in the county since the December 2015 massacre in San Bernardino, at least six people were gunned down in a remote area of the Mojave Desert about three miles east of the Shadow Mountain Ghost Town.
A San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy found five of the six dead in and around two vehicles near the intersection of Shadow Mountain Road and Lessing Avenue at 8:35 p.m. on the evening of January 23, 2024 after the sheriff’s dispatch center received a call at 8:16 p.m. requesting a welfare check from a location about a half mile from that location. The deputy was assisted in finding the vehicles, a blue Chevrolet Blazer SUV with Oregon plates and a silver Dodge Caravan van 9HUW954 with a blue 2024 expiration tag one hour and 17 minutes after sundown with assistance from a California Highway Patrol helicopter. The body of one of the five decedents was inside the Blazer. Another body was near the Caravan.
In the sheriff’s department’s initial survey of the scene, five victims, all of whom had been felled by gunfire, were found. The following morning, the body of another victim, one who had apparently been able to ambulate a yet-undisclosed short distance from the spot of the killings, was discovered.
According to available information, the shootings took place proximate to the El Mirage off-road trail 4652 marker not far from the Shadow Mountain Road/Lessing Avenue intersection. Shadow Mountain Road and Lessing Avenue are dirt roads. That intersection is roughly three miles east of the Shadow Mountain ghost town, where a no-longer active mining operation once flourished, and about three-and-a half miles west of Highway 395, 10 miles northeast of the center of El Mirage, 12 miles west of Helendale, 15 miles west of Silver Lakes, 18 miles north-northwest of Adelanto and 26 miles northwest of Victorville and 50 miles north of San Bernardino.
A fire department paramedic crew with advance life support gear was dispatched to the scene at 8:38 p.m., but upon arrival was unable to offer any positive assistance to the five victims discovered at that time, all of whom were pronounced dead.
Four of the five bodies encountered by the responding deputies were on the ground outside the vehicles, all bearing obvious signs of trauma including open wounds, torsos covered at least in part with blood, with signs of profuse bleeding on the ground around them.
An apparent attempt, one which was ultimately unsuccessful, had been made before the sheriff’s department arrived to set the Blazer afire. At least two of the corpses were partially burned.
The department was able to secure the crime scene and maintain its integrity throughout the night. The following morning, a bevy of investigators, including ones from the homicide detail of the sheriff’s specialized investigations division, forensic technicians and photographers descended upon the scene, at which point the sixth victim was found. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, efforts to locate and gather evidence were made, in many cases using hovering helicopters to avoid disturbing potential footprint, vehicle tracks and other evidence.
Once the investigation had begun in earnest, no one outside the department was able to approach the crime scene, as the closest entrance onto the dirt Shadow Mountain Road from the pavement was barred with yellow evidence marking tape and a deputy manning that chokepoint.
Investigators had gauged a time of death as occurring within a one-and-a-half-hour window on Tuesday but were not specific as to what that parameter was beyond that it was sometime during daylight January 23.
By the early afternoon of January 24, ten standard department vehicles along with a Freightliner MT-55 mobile command post and two other smaller van-type technical equipment and analysis vehicles were parked along Shadow Mountain Road roughly a tenth of a mile from the crime scene. The presence of the roomy mobile command post afforded technicians an opportunity to process or begin processing some of the evidence turned up on the spot and to upload any data gleaned to laboratories elsewhere for further analysis, some of which provided instantaneous or rapid feedback to investigators yet involved in fieldwork.
Light recent precipitation may have been of assistance in allowing investigators to recognize vehicle tracks or footprints near the scene that did not match those of the vehicles on the spot or the footwear of the victims.
Data feeds allowed footage from any video cameras or license plate readers in the area or at various chokepoints that lead to the location to be mined by investigators aboard the command post for what information they might provide about vehicles that transited into or out of the area on January 23, key evidence that might be used in identifying and locating suspects.
The victims located on Tuesday night near the vehicles had been stripped of their identification, according to one reliable source, with no wallets or similar possessions found on their persons. As of today, at least two of the victims had been identified by investigators, who did not publicly release that information. No one with the department was willing, at this point, to release the genders, nationalities or ages of the victims nor their last known places of residence.
Around 5 p.m. on January 24, individuals claiming to recognize one of the vehicles were permitted to proceed to the scene of the shooting and were interviewed by investigators. Another person, said to have been a family member of one of the victims, was a walk-in at the sheriff’s department station in Adelanto, the Sentinel was informed. At least one of the victims was from the Adelanto area, according to an informed source.
As of Thursday, according to the sheriff’s department, the identity of the initial caller was unknown. No update on that issue had been issued as of today, Friday January 26.
The area where the shooting occurred, proximate to a flat, dry lake bed, is virtually uninhabited, with what was identified as a single residence within two miles of the crossroads.
While what was described as a “thorough” search of the area had been conducted, including a close and methodical scanning of the landscape from above by eagle-eyed scouts in helicopters, the department was unable to rule out the possibility that there were other victims.
As of early Thursday, the department had identified, according to Sheriff’s Department Spokeswoman Mara Rodriguez, no suspects. When Rodriguez was asked early Friday for any further updates on the case and whether the victims would be identified publicly, Rodriguez stated that the press should “not expect identification today. The investigation is continuing. Currently, no updates are available for release. A press conference is expected to be announced next week if further information becomes available. We thank the public and our media partners for their patience as we conduct a careful and thorough investigation to bring justice to the families of those affected.”
According to the department, “Some information may not be available at this time. Either it is unknown or it may jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.”
There was recurrent media and social media speculation that the killings were gang-affiliated or foreign drug cartel-related, but investigators offered no confirmation of that.
In 2021 and 2022, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department engaged in an extended effort, dubbed Operation Hammerstrike, to find and eliminate unlicensed marijuana farms located throughout the county, most of them in the Mojave Desert. A significant percentage of the more than 1,200 outdoor cultivation facilities that were raided featured perpetrators who were foreigners both legal and illegal, that is documented and undocumented, primarily from Mexico and China. According to the sheriff’s department, at least some of those had cartel connections.
Some social media chatter featured conjecture that the victims might have happened upon one such operation, leading to their unfortunate fate. There was no indication from the sheriff’s department, however, that any marijuana farms had been located in the area recently. The marijuana growing cycle, when using natural sunlight, normally does not begin until February at the earliest, with the germination of unplanted seeds taking place in January.
The sheriff’s department went so far as to withhold whether the deaths were in fact caused by gunfire.
There was, nonetheless, strong indication that a shootout utilizing massive firepower had taken place. The Blazer had been riddled with bullet holes, with at least two bullet holes in the driver’s side front window. Both a driver’s side passenger compartment window and the rear window were blown out entirely, photographs of the vehicle taken early in the day on January 24 show. Late on January 24, possibly because of evidence processing that took place that afternoon, the driver’s side front window, which initially had bullet holes but was essentially intact otherwise, was largely shattered.
It appears that the shooting that did take place occurred from different spots. In one relatively small area of no more than 70-square feet to 100-square feet – a circumscribed patch of ground of not more than ten feet by ten feet – which appeared to be roughly equidistant from either vehicle, markers on the ground corresponding to shell casings that were recovered indicated that no fewer than 34 shots were fired from that point alone. There were lesser numbers of shell casings on the ground elsewhere.
The department appealed to anyone with information about the crime to contact investigators.

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