STATELINE - A man who died in a gunfire exchange with Douglas County sheriff's deputies Saturday in Harrah's Lake Tahoe may have bought firearms at a local dealer just hours before the shooting, authorities said Sunday.
Harvey Ex, 53, of Sunset Beach, Calif., a San Diego suburb, was identified Sunday as the man who was involved in the 2:07 p.m. shooting which wounded two deputies in a VIP room for high-stakes gamblers.
One of the deputies was shot in the torso. His wound was not life-threatening because he had on a bulletproof vest.
According to Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Joe Duffy, Ex was reported to have displayed suicidal tendencies. It's unclear what those tendencies were, except he was considered despondent.
An autopsy was performed Sunday to determine how many times Ex was shot.
Authorities concluded Sunday the officers were shot with a 32-caliber handgun. Duffy reported Ex drove up in a limousine to Roundhill Square earlier Saturday and bought two antique guns from Guns of Tahoe.
The Brady Law, a 1993 gun-control initiative that prohibits the sale of handguns to felons and requires a waiting period and licensing on their purchase, does not apply to antiques.
Still, gun dealer Woody Peterson said something "didn't seem right" at the time of the sale. He consequently called the sheriff's Dispatch Center, Duffy said. Peterson concurred.
Apparently, the man's wife also called dispatch saying she was concerned about her husband's mental well-being.
Deputies were in the casino investigating a suspicious person when the incident happened. Duffy said Ex struggled with deputies before shots were fired.
Witnesses said at least four shots were fired in the Diamond Lounge, which is apart from the main casino floor. Two injured deputies were transported - one via ambulance to Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, the other via CalStar helicopter to Washoe Medical Center in Reno. Both men received non-life-threatening injuries and have been released from the hospitals.
Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Nelson was shot in the hand, hip and arm. He had surgery on the arm injury at Washoe Medical.
"It's been a traumatic event. They both have a big road ahead of them. They're distraught they had to take someone's life," sheriff's Detective Phil Lesquereux said.
Ex's history of run-ins with law enforcement dates back to the 1970s. Besides numerous alcohol- and drug-related and violent crimes on his record, the felon was on probation in Las Vegas for assault with a deadly weapon, Duffy said.
The motive and manner in which Ex died remains under investigation, as it is unknown whether he fired on deputies first or died of gunfire from the deputies.
"Right now, it's a puzzle, and we have to work it out," said Sheriff Ron Pierini said. "We've accounted for all the officer shots (to their bodies). (Ex) was shot multiple times."
A woman who was believed to be with Ex was questioned by investigators Saturday night.
Witnesses inside the casino at the time of the shooting reported dozens of patrons running for exits when shots were fired.
"I saw a group of four or five young people in their 20s and they all had this panicked look on their face," said Gary Mancebo, 50, of Stockton, Calif. "Then I heard one of them say 'There's a robbery, there's a robbery, let's get out of here!' Then everybody started running. I grabbed my wife and we went outside."
Jeff Wren and Jason Sakamoto, both 23 and from Sacramento, described the scene as frantic.
"I heard a pop, pop, pop, and I looked to assess the situation - all I saw was a lot of people running for the door," Wren said.
"Everyone started running ... it was like a herd. At first I thought it was a bomb or a terrorist attack," Sakamoto said.
The shooting comes on the heels of an incident in which two Harrah's security officers were stabbed outside of its Altitude nightclub about a week ago.
Since then, Harrah's has added security personnel to that area, spokesman John Packer said Sunday. There are also handheld metal detectors at the entrance to the nightclub.
n Tahoe Daily Tribune city editor Jeff Munson contributed to this story.