HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Jose Sanchez was coaching his soccer team of 13-year-old girls when a wild-eyed man began chasing children with what looked like a broken wine bottle at a California sports complex.
People ran as the bloodied and shirtless man, later identified as 29-year-old Steven Schiltz, followed an adult soccer player over a 3-foot barrier and onto the field where the children were practicing Thursday night, Sanchez said.
As screams filled the air and children climbed fences to escape, Schiltz moved toward a woman on the bleachers who apparently was frozen with fear. 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.”
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 she 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.”
Huntington Beach police said at 7:20 p.m. Thursday officers responded to reports of a man wielding a baseball bat and broken bottle and chasing children at a park. The 45-acre facility has eight softball fields and seven soccer fields, as well as batting cages and playgrounds. Police estimated at least 200 people were there at the time.
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 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.
Police said Schiltz had been to the park before but it was unclear why he was there Thursday.
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.
Schiltz’s mother got the restraining order after writing in court documents that her son “swings his baseball bat around threatening to physically hurt us.”
Schiltz drank heavily and used and sold marijuana, she wrote. He stole from relatives, made holes in walls and threatened to kill himself and his family, she said.
In 2015, his mother had the restraining order dismissed. Later that year, Schiltz pleaded guilty to threatening to kill someone and breaking a utility line, court records show.
Norman Harboldt, who builds sheds and hired Schiltz for some jobs, said he didn’t know him well but recalled how Schiltz once tracked down a bicycle someone had stolen from his yard and returned it.
“He had a pretty good heart,” Harboldt said.
Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.