Motive unknown in deadly shooting rampage in Banning

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Police have not released a motive in the deadly shooting rampage that stretched from Banning to Beaumont, leaving two men dead.

Police have not released a motive in the deadly shooting rampage that stretched from Banning to Beaumont, leaving two men dead.

James Paul Diaz Jr., 34, is the man Banning police say went on a violent shooting rampage Saturday. It was a crime spree that left two people dead and three others injured.

In the middle of it all, a woman who asked not be identified says Diaz stopped by to pay a visit to her son - a longtime friend.

"Just came in for a minute, left," she said. "He's always been very respectful. I just thought he was drunk, that was all."

Just minutes earlier around 11:30 a.m., Diaz allegedly ambushed Paul Lesh, 66, as he and another man sat in a car in the 700 block of East John Street. Lesh was killed, and his passenger was injured.

A memorial now marks the spot where Lesh died outside Elizabeth Homer's house. She says she heard the commotion, but didn't think anything of it

"At first we thought it was an accident, and it wasn't until a couple hours later when I heard about the shootings through my friends that we realized oh not an accident," said Homer.

Benjamin Johnson, 34, left, and Paul Lesh, 66, right, are seen in photos from the Department of Motor Vehicles.


Police say Diaz then shot at a driver not far from Homer's home. She survived the attack after pulling into an Arco gas station for help.

Then, police say Diaz beat a man nearby with the butt of his gun. The victim, Major Maxwell, 78, seen leaving the police station with a bandaged head, says the suspect tried to choke him.

The next victim, identified as Benjamin Johnson, 34, was shot and killed as he drove on the street. His truck crashed into a cement wall in the 100 block of East Lincoln Street.

Just after that, Diaz went to see his friend in Beaumont. That family was unaware of the violence one town away.

"I honestly don't know what is going on with him. I don't," said the woman who didn't want to be identified.

Police say his crime spree ended at a nearby church.

Tara Shawn Ruehle says Diaz appeared manic when he shattered her car's window in the parking lot. Inside the locked vehicle were her 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

"He told me that his kids were in the car and that I had his kids," said Ruehle. "And I had no idea who he was; I had never met him before."

Diaz faces multiple charges, including two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Cal Fire confirmed to Eyewitness News that at one time Diaz was a seasonal firefighter with the fire agency for the past six years. Officials said they had to terminate him with cause, but did not say what that cause was. They said he actually resigned before the termination went into effect.

Related Topics:
shootingassaultattackBanningBeaumontRiverside County
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