(CNN)Two beloved El Monte police officers were killed Tuesday while responding to a possible stabbing at a motel, officials in the Southern California city said.
2 Southern California police officers were killed while trying to protect a family, El Monte mayor says
"They were essentially ambushed while trying to keep a family safe," El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona said.
The officers were identified Wednesday as Corp. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana.
The officers responded to a call about a possible stabbing at an El Monte motel, said the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which is leading the investigation.
When the officers arrived, "they confronted the suspect, and an officer-involved shooting occurred," sheriff's department Capt. Andrew Meyer said. "The suspect fled the hotel room into the parking lot and a second officer-involved shooting occurred. Two officers from El Monte Police Department and the suspect were struck by gunfire."
The two officers were taken to LAC + USC Medical Center, where they died of their injuries. Meyer said it appears no victim was stabbed, but authorities are investigating. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
The suspect, identified as Justin Flores, was out of jail on probation at the time of the shooting, according to a source in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office.
In 2021, Flores pleaded guilty to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, LA County District Attorney's Office Public Information Officer Ricardo Santiago said in a statement.
"The sentence he received in the firearm case was consistent with case resolutions for this type of offense given his criminal history and the nature of the offense," Santiago said, adding that Flores did not have a documented history of violence at the time of his sentencing.
Flores' criminal history dates back to when he was convicted of burglarizing his grandparents' home more than 10 years ago, resulting in a strike, Santiago said.
Both Paredes and Santana grew up in El Monte and "had a strong connection to the community they served," the department said in a statement.
Paredes is survived by his wife, daughter, and son and spent his entire 22-year career with the El Monte Police Department.
Santana began his career in the El Monte Public Works Department, and served several years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department before joining the El Monte police force. He is survived by his wife, daughter, and twin sons.
The mayor said both officers were deeply committed to protecting the community.
"These two officers were like family in our community with deep ties to our neighborhoods," Ancona said.
"One of our officers was raised in El Monte, went through our schools and was excited to be a part of the El Monte Police Department, where he would be able to serve and protect family and friends. The other fallen officer was a new officer, patrolling our streets, excited to be on the force."
The mayor said both officers were also fathers.
"These men were dedicated to their careers, and even more so as sons, husbands and fathers," Ancona said. "We stand in solidarity with them, embrace them and their families."
El Monte's interim police chief said the slain officers were heroes.
"These two men were loved. They were good men," interim Police Chief Ben Lowry said.
"They paid the ultimate sacrifice serving their community, trying to help somebody. They do with hundreds of thousands of men and women do every day across the United States. ... And these two heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice."