HOUSTON – Houston police released the name of a man Friday night who authorities said shot and killed a fire Department arson investigator early Friday morning.
Police said 30-year-old Joshua De La Cerda committed suicide at the scene of a shootout with HFD arson investigator Lemuel Bruce about 3:30 a.m. in the 2100 block of Seamist Drive and W. 18th Street.
Neighbors living in the area described hearing several shots before realizing what happened outside their home.
“My daughter ran out of the bedroom and said that she heard a big crash and a bunch of gunshots,” said James Lithgow, who heard the commotion outside of his home.
“I was in bed asleep and I heard 10 gunshots and a loud noise, a boom. I was scared because I have my family here. My mom, my daughter, my niece. I was scared," said Sandra Cruz, who also lives in the area.
According to police, Bruce and a team of six other investigators had been looking into a string of car fires in the Timbergrove and Heights areas.
HFD Chief Sam Peña said Bruce noticed a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle. Authorities said Bruce was in contact with the team while he was conducting surveillance and De La Cerda opened fire, instigating a shootout.
Bruce was shot multiple times in the torso and head and was transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he later died, according to HFD Chief Sam Peña.
Police said officers found De La Cerda dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a gray car.
“I want to give our condolences to the Bruce family,” Peña said. “(Bruce’s wife and children) are hurting right now. The department is hurting … This is a terrible incident in the history of the Houston Fire Department. We have never had an investigator shot in the line of duty.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also gave his condolences to the family and asked the city to lift up the family because Bruce was out doing his job when he was shot.
“Nearly half of his life was committed to the city of Houston,” Turner said. “This is a tough day … but if we continue to pray and take it one day at a time, we’ll get through it.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement on Bruce’s death saying:
"Early this morning, a brave first responder with the Houston Fire Department was gunned down in the line of duty. Please join Jan and me in praying for his family, including his wife and two children, his friends, and the Houston Fire Department. As Texans, we know that law enforcement puts their lives on the line every day to keep our families and our communities safe. It is more important than ever that they have our support.”
The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association released the following statement on Bruce’s death:
“Lemuel Bruce, who served 16 years in the Houston Fire Department, passed away today after dying in the line of duty, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association said. An investigator in the HFD Arson Unit, Bruce, 44, died from gunshot wounds while conducting surveillance during an arson investigation in the 1700 block of Seamist and West 18th Street. The arson suspect opened fire on Bruce’s vehicle and he sustained multiple gunshot wounds."
HPFFA President Patrick Lancton said in part, “We mourn the line-of-duty loss of Lemuel Bruce, our friend and brother. Please keep Lemuel’s family, friends and arson unit in your thoughts and prayers."
Details of the memorial service for Investigator Bruce will be announced as soon as possible.
Bruce, 44, had been in the department for 17 years and was a part of the arson department for five years. He was a husband and father to a 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
Chief Matt Slinkard with the Houston Police Department said police are conducting an investigation into the shooting as they would any other officer-involved shooting since arson investigators are sworn, classified peace officers.
The District Attorney’s Office will also be helping in the investigation, Slinkard said.
Minutes before the fatal shootout, KPRC 2 Investigates learned another arson fire took place on the 2000 block of W. 14th Street.
Home surveillance footage obtained by KPRC 2 shows a shadowy figure leaving the scene of the crime.
“The car alarm was going off and Trey looked out front, and it was in flames,” Charla Allen said on Friday.
The fire that consumed the Allen’s Toyota Highlander happened about 3:30 a.m. Friday, and may have, but not definitively precipitate the pursuit of the suspect.