LOS ANGELES – The 32-year-old California man shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in a Costco store on Friday night was nonverbal and had an intellectual disability, according to a family member.
Kenneth French of Riverside lived with his parents and had the mental capacity of a teenager, said his cousin, Rick Shureih, in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times on Sunday night.
“He was a gentle giant,” Shureih said. “He’s never been violent in the past. He’s always been very cooperative and kept to himself.”
According to Corona police, an off-duty officer with the Los Angeles Police Department was shopping at Costco with his family when he was attacked while holding his young child. Police said the assault was unprovoked and led the officer to fire his weapon, striking French and two of his family members.
The officer’s child was not injured.
Corona police offered no further details about the circumstances leading up to the shooting.
Shureih identified his relatives as Russell and Paola French, Kenneth French’s parents – both of whom were being treated in an intensive care unit Sunday night. Paola French was still in a coma, Shureih said, while Russell French’s condition has improved some since the shooting.
The officer, who has not been identified, suffered minor injuries and was taken to a hospital and then discharged, said Officer Greg Kraft of the LAPD. The officer is assigned to the department’s Southwest Division.
Russell French, 58, has yet to give a public account of the shooting.
Shureih doesn’t know what might have led to the shooting, but he said it’s unlikely that Kenneth French initiated a verbal confrontation. His cousin’s mental condition had declined in recent years, and he no longer spoke.
“It could have been that he bumped into somebody but couldn’t communicate the fact that he was sorry,” Shureih said.
The Frenches have dedicated their lives to taking care of their son, Shureih said. He described his aunt and uncle as “the sweetest people in the world.”
In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, Shureih shared a photo of Kenneth French and his parents at Universal Studios.
“Do they look intimidating to you? Did he really have to shoot them all?” Shureih wrote. “I’m posting this picture because the stories on social media have made them out to be the suspects, and the off duty cop the victim.”
Kenneth French could drive and cook himself breakfast and sometimes held down part-time jobs, but was unable to live on his own, Shureih said. He was unsure of Kenneth French’s exact disability.
Immediately after the shooting, police said that two men were in an argument when one pulled out a weapon and fatally shot the other. They said they had detained the shooter inside the store and then taken him to a hospital after he said he was injured.
Later, however, police said no one was in custody and that there had not been an arrest in the case.
Shureih said the family plans to hire a lawyer to advocate on their behalf.
“We need witnesses to come forward. We need to know the shooter’s name. We need to get the surveillance tape from Costco,” Shureih said. “These are things we need to pursue to make sure justice is done.”
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