Hours of Terror Ended, Thanks to Neighbor ‘John,’ Two Strangers and a Dog Named Brown

The gunman in the blue T-shirt with an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder stood in the driveway and demanded that John (not his real name) give him the keys to his black Ford Focus sedan. John appeared to comply, going into the house to fetch a key.

Once inside, the resident of Ben Lomond—a small town between Boulder Creek and Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains—made a decision on that Saturday afternoon that would affect the course of events for an entire community.

It was his “let’s roll” moment.

John got a key, but it was a set of house keys, not a car key that he handed to the armed man. When the gunman turned to get into the vehicle, John tackled him, knocking the rifle to the ground. He disarmed the man, first knocking a pipe bomb out of his hand, then a pistol. John yelled for help.

A pair of Good Samaritans and a dog named Brown responded just in time.

And so, two hours of terror in the San Lorenzo Valley had ended, thanks to John, two strangers and dog named Brown.

“This was a remarkable, remarkable heroic thing that that resident did,” Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart told reporters two days later. “This guy was a dangerous and angry man intent on harming police officers, and could have done a lot more damage in our community had that resident not taken the action he did.”

“This guy” is 32-year-old Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo, who’s now in custody awaiting arraignment Friday on charges that he murdered Sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and wounded two other officers.

“That resident”—“John”—prefers to remain anonymous, declining all interviews and shunning any recognition as a local hero, as he quietly processes the events of June 6.

Below is an account of those dramatic moments in a driveway off of Highway 9 in Ben Lomond, as told to Good Times/San Jose Inside by two witnesses and the other participant in the throttling of a desperate armed man on the run, plus accounts from John as told to sheriff’s investigators. None of the eyewitnesses knew each other before June 6, except Chris, who is John’s neighbor. They are … 

Clara Ricabal.

Clara Ricabal, 42, a nurse who lives in Boulder Creek and works in San Jose.

She was driving south on Highway 9 to shop in Felton when she was pulled over near John’s house, because of the roadblock. She shot a phone video of the scuffle and subsequent arrest of Steven Carillo.

Aside from deputies’ body cams, her video is the only known video record of the incident. She is to meet with investigators this week.

Erik Thom, 38, a carpenter who has been out of work for four months. Thom says he was EMT for more than 10 years, and that he and his dog Brown, a 70-pound hound-pit bull mix, have been living in his car for several weeks. Kevin Foster, of Foster Construction in Boulder Creek, saw Thom’s actions in Ricabal’s video on a local community website, and gave him a job.

Thom, like Ricabal, had pulled over to the side of the road because of the Highway 9 roadblock. He is staying in Brookdale, just north of Ben Lomond. He said he wasn’t hurt in the June 6 struggle, but he has a cut chin and cut and bruised lip.

Chuck, a neighbor who asked to withhold his surname and who shares a cottage apartment next to the driveway where the altercation took place.

Here is their account.

Chuck: I heard someone in my neighbor’s yard. I see the guy up on the fence, jumping over to another house. I see him and he sees me. I didn’t see any weapon.

We’re staring at each other and I’m smoking a cigarette, and he whispers, “You didn’t see me, I’m not here, it’s OK?” and I was just dumbstruck staring at him. He rolled over the other side of the fence and disappeared. I talked to John about it  and told him there’s somebody running through the backyard. Then I went out into the street and saw the road was blocked off. I told the police there’s a guy jumping fences, but they didn’t respond. I figure that by this time, he’s gone, so I go back inside.

Then I hear somebody in the yard again, I hear John yelling “Help” and he’s on the ground wrestling with some guy and I see a pistol in the guy’s hand. I see another guy has run up with his dog, and they are holding the guy there. John really saved the day.

Erik Thom and his dog Brown.

Thom: This suspect was in the neighbor’s yard, and the neighbor has kids, so John told me later that the guy started pressing on the neighbors to get their car, and then John convinced the guy to come over to his yard, saying, “Hey, I’ve got a car for you over here.”

Hart: This guy went into the backyard of a local resident on Highway 9 (just north of the roadblock in Ben Lomond, near Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church), and the local resident confronted him, wanting to know what he was doing on his property.

The suspect … had an AR-15 slung over his shoulder—he was carrying an AR-15—and he told the resident he wanted his car keys. The resident very calmly went into his house, obtained a key and came back out and handed it to him.

Thom: John gave him a bunk set of keys. When the guy turned around, John got the AR off him, and knocked a pipe bomb out of his hand. He was wrestling with him on the ground. That’s when I let Brown loose and he went gnawing on the guy’s head. And I followed right behind Brown.

Grainy footage from Clara Rcabal’s cellphone shows the suspect getting tackled.

When I got there the pipe bomb was 10 feet or less from where we were wrestling with him, and the AR was like five feet away from us. As soon as Brown got on him, the hand gun went flying.

John was struggling, crying out for help, and I just went right for it because this guy needed some help.

I let my dog go. I took a chance, I gambled with it, because I knew my dog was going to attack one of them—he’s just like that.

I knew he was going to get somebody, and I just said to myself, “Godammit Brown, just get the right person,” and thank God he did.

As soon as the dog got on to that guy, gnawing at his head, he submitted. He was done fighting. John told me later, the guy said, “OK, OK , I’m done.”

I went over and put the wrench on his arm, with John laying on his back. The guy was bloodied all over, not from my dog but from being shot somewhere in the groin area.

I leaned down and was eye to eye and face to face with the guy, and I said, “I sincerely help that you get the help that you need.” Then the cops had him, and they said, “Get the dog out of there,” and I left, and so did John.

Hart: As the suspect turned around, the resident tackled him. The AR-15 fell away, and the resident took this guy to the ground.

At that time, the suspect reached into his pocket and pulled out a pipe bomb and tried to light it—he tried to ignite a pipe bomb while being held down.

This resident was able to knock the pipe bomb out of his hand, and then the suspect reached into his waistband and pulled out a pistol and there was a wrestling match over the pistol. The resident was able to knock the pistol out of his hand, and detain this guy, until our deputy sheriffs were able to get there and place him under arrest.

Ricabal: I was standing there with Erik whom I had just met, and I saw John come out of his house. Then I turned to video the roadblock about a half a block away, when I heard John calling “Help” four times. And I said, “What?” and I turned off the video and I turned to Erik, and I said, “Where is that coming from?”

And we saw there was somebody on the ground, and I went behind Erik to look and I thought it was a dog, just the way John was lying on the ground, that was the only thing I could think of. I didn’t see the suspect underneath him at first. Then I did a double take, and that’s when I started the video.

I was calling the cops, but no one would come. And I continued the video.

It felt like an eternity.

When I went back, I almost stepped on the gun. At that moment, I knew that Erik was already standing on this dude’s hand, and the moment that I saw the dog bite the suspect, I could see his reaction—I saw the guy relax and he stopped fighting. I went over to Erik to see if I could hold the dog while he was struggling, but John told me to stay away.

And I’m looking at the cops, they’re just half a block down the road. They can see me. I’m waving my hands, and yelling, “I’m a nurse, a public health nurse, come help. He has a gun. Get some handcuffs on this guy.”

It was a moment of desperation. Nobody was talking back to me. They were behind their vehicles with their weapons. Then other deputies arrived.

At this point, a Sheriff’s Department Explorer crashes through the fence along Highway 9 next to Thom’s house, another patrol SUV makes a screeching U-turn in the highway and deputies jump out with guns drawn. 

Ricabal’s video shows four deputies swarming the three men on the ground, pulling John off and ordering the civilians back, fearful of the pipe bomb lying in the dirt a few feet away. They drag Carrillo out into the edge of Highway 9 and cuff the suspect lying face down on the pavement. They walk him south along Highway 9 a few moments later, and a video by a bystander shows his right leg drenched in blood. It’s over.

John and Thom and Chuck were taken to the police command post next door at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church where they would spend the next several hours. Thom’s and Ricabal’s cars were stuck inside yellow tape until Sunday, and some strangers gave them a ride to their homes Saturday night. John’s car was impounded for evidence and he couldn’t return to his house until Monday, June 8, as crime scene investigators scoured the crime scene all day June 7.

Thom started work as a carpenter this week. Ricabal said she has slept with her lights on every night since the incident.

As far as Hart is concerned, John deserves accolades from an entire community. “He does not want to be named, he does not want any recognition, but if I have to drive up there and see him personally, we will give him a commendation, and a citizen’s medal.” 

If you know anything in connection with this case, contact the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office tip line, at 831.454.2588.

17 Comments

  1. Crazy that this guy doesn’t want people to know his identity, but totally respect his wishes. Maybe he’s just shy, maybe he is incredibly humble. This is a story of unbelievable heroism, and whoever he is, I hope he feels the admiration of the community for his actions.

    • > Crazy that this guy doesn’t want people to know his identity, but totally respect his wishes. Maybe he’s just shy, maybe he is incredibly humble.

      Not crazy AT ALL.

      Very smart. Very wise.

      Indications are that Steven Carrillo was a troubled, “emotionally vulnerable” nut inflamed by antiracist/anti-cop social media venom. There are probably many more like him out there.

      But even beyond the ideological zealotry, there are many people out there who will do sociopathic things JUST TO BECOME FAMOUS. Mark David Chapman. Sarah Moore.

      Fame attracts admirers. It also attracts stalkers.

      Our society is probably not as safe as people imagine it to be.

      • Very true. What’s fame, more than more people know who you are than you know who they are? Ask John Lennon how he likes his fame…oh that’s right you can’t!

  2. Was he wearing his mask?
    I hope he was wearing his mask.
    You don’t wanna be tackling armed terrorists without your mask.
    That could be dangerous.

  3. With our idiot CA dog laws, this heroic dog could be put down. In CA, dog bites are “strict liability”, meaning if the dog bites, it is the dog’s fault. No extenuating circumstances, not even this situation where the dog helped to subdue a criminal. A criminal, not a “suspect”. If this creep sues the dog owner, he will win, under a “summary judgement”, meaning that the judge has to rule that it is a matter of law, with no issues of fact to be determined by a jury.

    This is stupid and wrong, but that is what you get with our “The best that money can buy” legislators .

    • > With our idiot CA dog laws, this heroic dog could be put down. In CA, dog bites are “strict liability”, meaning if the dog bites, it is the dog’s fault.

      Outrageous!

      I thought I was about out of outrage, but I found another stash.

  4. All I can say is….Thank You John…THANK YOU!! Your courage is a wonder to behold and you may well have saved many lives. Who knows how much more damage this nut may have done. You are a true HERO, sir. You have my greatest respect.

  5. ” . . . And so, two hours of terror in the San Lorenzo Valley had ended . . .”
    Only after the fact do we know that. There were preliminary reports of two, possibly three, suspects. Helicopters circling over the area for several hours, even after the arrest of Mr. Carrillo, led many to speculate they were searching for other suspects, so for many, it was still frightening. Even after the 8:30 press conference that night, it felt like so many questions were still unanswered, among them “are there more suspects lurking in the area, who are being sought?” I was afraid to take my dog out that night, for fear some fugitive was still out there.

    That being said, I love how Mr. Holtzclaw describes the HERO’s split second decision as his “let’s roll” moment! I wholeheartedly respect John’s desire to be anonymous, but surely he is aware that a whole community does indeed consider him a HERO. There’s no telling how much more damage Mr. Carrillo could have inflicted, how many more lives might have been lost, had John not acted as quickly and decisively as he did. His actions are those of a HERO. He is right up there with our first responders, running to the danger rather than away from it. Thank you, “John”, from the bottom of my heart – you truly are a HERO in every sense of the word!

    • I agree completely with the above comment. “John” has unbelievable courage.
      Ben Lomond was in terror and lock down, not knowing where the two (as was being reported) suspects were.
      If the law enforcement officers engaged the suspect, imagine the carnage. The suspect had multiple bombs in that area, as for hours thereafter, over six bombs were set off by the bomb squads.

  6. Very disturbing that nobody in the huge mass of assembled law enforcement would respond to Ricabel’s arms waving, yelling for help, “He’s got a gun” etc. I mean, there were cops from S San Fran, as far away as San Benito Co., clogging the roads, blocking each other even, and right in their midst is the most obvious clue imaginable, and they ignored it. This was very sloppy police work, and extraordinary civilian action.

    • They were already ambushed once. Cannot rush into another scenario without precautions.

      Thankfully it’s on video, John and Erik are safe and no more lives were lost.

      Suspect needs a good psychological evaluation.

      • Thank you, Penny, for that perspective. I hadn’t even thought about them being afraid of being ambushed again – that makes SO much sense! I had the same initial reaction as BL, I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t hurrying.

    • So true! The more i think and learn about this, the more disappointed I become with local law enforcement. I live in Boulder Creek and know the general response time from the sheriff’s office is usually greater than 40 minutes. So i am going to guess that things got off to a slow start, giving the idiot time to get situated and kill one of the responding officers. That officer and whoever was with him had no training for that situation, so he should have waited for backup. Perhaps he did, but it was too long in comng. Then police couldn’t catch the killer as he turned right on Highway 9 at the Sheriffs’s substation. Or during the time he stopped to try to hijack a car, at the Redwood Coast Collective. So they set up roadblocks, which directed people like us coming from the south to detour right past the original, still active, crime scene. They all piled up in Ben Lomond and watched from across the road as local RESIDENTS and a very very good (but apparently terrifying to the police) dog took care of business. You think that was the end? No, all the other LEOs had to come quell what I am sure they thought was a BLM-related slaughter of a white police officer. It was a tragedy of errors. If we don’t defund the police, we damned well better train them.

      • I am very saddened by your opinion. I highly respect our law enforcement!
        First, I live right below the suspects home (Waldeberg wraps around behind and above Old County) and about half way between the road block in front of Tyrolean and the Gold Dome Church. There was maybe 5 mins if that between the first siren and the road being blocked by around 20-30 law enforcement. If you were not here, you can’t really know what you are speaking of. You are assuming. After the 4 th- 5 th siren my daughter got on Fire Dispatch and heard the officer screaming in Fire Truck Radio, “ Officer down! ” so they were already in the way to back up Officer Gutzwiller before the ambush actually happened! And within 3 mins my front yard was blocked by several chp, police cars from everywhere and an officer walking down the center of Hwy 9, yelling at all of us to get inside ! Your assumptions are all wrong ! Btw if I were a police officer over on Alba ( which appears to be where they were ) I am pretty sure I would have some adrenaline running and focused on searching and they were likely talking to each other or signaling one another .. especially if that is where the white car was left.. maybe they did not hear her yelling! For you to say that they were incapable and had no training? Are you kidding??? They are trained in academy and some are involved in further training, especially if they expect to ever be promoted ! Pretty sure they are all very well trained and apparently they did call for back up but the guy came out & they had to act They could not just let him walk out and drive away ! And you say that the shooter came down and turned right into 9 ? Well if he came down Hubbard or Alba he had to turn left – even Alba it is still left slightly. but I am going to guess that he was already on foot across 9 before they knew he was down at the bottom of Alba because they were all headed up Hubbard to his place on Waldeberg. Your assumptions to discredit and put down our law enforcement is sad and not appreciated and the remark that they probably though it was a BLM related event ?? OMG! The only thing I have any complaint on is that there was never any announcement for all of us who live here that there were no there suspects – that would have been nice since the helicopter was over my house at the top of the trees vibrating my whole house from 3:00-8:30 pm – we were all very concerned that someone was hiding under our house or in our yard! And the Press Briefing had no mention of it either way but it was all over social media that a second suspect was arrested and looking for a third!
        It would be nice had we all been given a reverse 911 at all- but things were very chaotic! I cut them some slack but got maybe 2 hrs sleep off and on… and a long nap Sunday afternoon . All of us need to appreciate our law enforcement and stop putting them down – they lost a fellow officer and I am sure it is very tough to go through this experience! Thank you PD for all you do and sacrifices you make to serve and protect us!

        • When there are probably dozens of cops on the immediate scene, and it’s two random citizen motorists who hear cries of “Help!”, then RUN toward the action (with ZERO notice nor response from a TON of edgy cops, who should’ve immediately focused on THAT commotion, if only for self protection), and take part in subduing a struggling and VIOLENT suspect, then, turn back to the cops, visible just yards away, and say,“I’m a nurse, a public health nurse, come help. He has a gun. Get some handcuffs on this guy”, and STILL the police don’t respond, there is some VERY serious deficiency in the cops’ situational awareness.

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