A six-hour stalemate turned a Gilroy neighborhood into a scene of blaring megaphones and flashing police lights Wednesday night, as officers used a SWAT team, bomb squad robot and hostage negotiators to coax out an armed, wanted parolee holed up in the attic belonging to a family he barely knew.
As officers from the Gilroy and Morgan Hill police departments readied to lob canisters of tear gas into the single-story home on the 800 block of Welburn Avenue shortly after 10 p.m., 39-year-old Anthony “Torpedo” Villalobos – wanted for more than two years for multiple felonies – walked through the front door with his hands up as an officer’s voice bellowed from a speaker system, “Keep coming, keep coming.”
It was a peaceful conclusion to a tense standoff that could have ended much worse, both for Villalobos and roughly two-dozen officers who surrounded the home but never entered it, police said.
“We have to do very safe things. If he shoots one of our officers, that's the absolute worst,” GPD Capt. Kurt Svardal said.
Villalobos, a transient who has lived in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and Watsonville, had been on the run following a no-bail warrant for a parole violation, as well as probation violations stemming from resisting arrest, being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault and battery, police said.
Police would not comment as to whether he was a known gang member, though a tattoo above his right eye reads “Gilroy.” Some Nortenos often display “408”, “Gilroy” or garlic bulb tattoos showing they are from the area, according to a GPD gang history included in court documents.
Villalobos did not harm the family inside, including two children police believed were no more than 3 years old. The family exited the home several hours before Villalobos surrendered.
After Villalobos was detained around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, police found a loaded semi-automatic handgun inside the house, where they believe Villalobos attempted to stash the weapon before surrendering. The gun is registered to a person who has been dead for several years, though police believe Villalobos stole the weapon from a home in unincorporated Gilroy earlier this year.
“That was our big concern,” Svardal said about confirming Villalobos was armed. “That's why we took the action that we did.”
Police don’t believe the homeowners knew about the gun, nor do they believe the family was aware Villalobos was a wanted criminal. They do “loosely know him,” and the father was briefly detained for questioning but was released, GPD Sgt. Joseph Deras said.
Traffic was blocked off entirely on the 800 block of Welburn Avenue, and about 20 neighbors watched the incident unfold from across the street. That number, however, dwindled to just five as the standoff rolled into its sixth hour. Several people who passed by asked, “Is it Torpedo?”
One man, who didn’t give his name, was stunned, calling Villalobos “a nice guy.” He added, however, “it’s good no one else is in there with him.”
Once officers had the home surrounded by about 4:30 p.m., a GPD arrest team rolled to the driveway in the BearCat armored vehicle and attempted to draw Villalobos out by bellowing instructions through the vehicle’s public-address speakers.
While police dogs barked, an officer used a megaphone asking Villalobos to surrender. "This is the best way to do this!" and "We're not going until you come out!" were some of the demands heard at the scene.
Around 7:45 p.m. a Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department bomb squad crew moved into Welburn Avenue, where it deployed a 4-foot-tall robot that traveled inside the home through an open front door to look for Villalobos. As the robot scoured the home, officers viewed the video feed from the camera-carrying robot on a screen from inside a bomb squad van. Police said they didn’t believe Villalobos had explosives, but simply wanted to use the Sheriff’s equipment to locate him. It was the preferred alternative to sending in officers, Svardal said, because it was safer, and officers were able to speak to Villalobos through the robot.
“You can't hurt an inanimate object. It can break. You can replace parts,” he said. “It takes them (the suspect) a while to come to the realization that they're going to be captured. That technology helped convince him, that, ‘I should just give up.’”
Deras added that police had to be cautious in approaching Villalobos because it wasn’t the first time they found him to be armed. Police also learned, “from a variety of sources,” that Villalobos may have been on “methamphetamine binge” before the standoff, Deras said.
“The last two occasions that we're personally familiar with him, he's been armed. That right there is a reason (to be careful),” Deras said. “He's a convicted felon in the past. He's fought police in the past.”
Deras said, “He's been around a long time. I'll just say the Gilroy Police Department is quite familiar with him.”
When police approached Villalobos around 3:45 p.m., he darted into the home and soon tried to make an escape out the back door. But officers were waiting behind the home’s backyard and Villalobos retreated into the residence, Deras said.
Police wouldn’t comment on the origin of his nickname, nor his facial tattoos, which includes “Gilroy” inked above his right eye, and “I’m N motion” above his left.
About 30 minutes after Villalobos fled into the home, police told employees at One World Preschool, housed in a nearby Masonic temple, they and their 15 young students needed to evacuate.
“This has never happened to us,” said Melissa Alvarez, who’s owned the preschool for about 10 years.
Within an hour, parents of all children at the school arrived to take their children home, Alvarez said.
“Everybody was safe, everything went well,” she said.
Only the house next door to where Villalobos was hiding was also evacuated – when officers prepared to deploy tear gas, which went unused.