Sandra Harmon was a petite 56-year-old woman known for her friendly demeanor and her ability to always find a way to compliment people. Harmon, who had been living in Humboldt County with her husband, came to Half Moon Bay about a week ago to visit her daughter. Her life ended suddenly in a standoff with San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday.
For many years, Harmon suffered from mental health issues, including bipolar depression, her daughter said. An alcoholic who had been sober for many years, she saw a physiatrist and was on antidepressants, according to daughter, Willow Grace.
“To everyone she was the sweetest woman in the world,” said Grace, who lives in Half Moon Bay. “She was definitely a peaceful person, but she was scared.”
While dealing with her mental illness Harmon was still able to maintain employment and live a normal social life. Grace said she started to notice a change in her mom as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread throughout the country, and Americans were ordered to shelter-in-place.
On the evening of May 5, Grace, who’s a caregiver, was at work, leaving her mom home alone. Harmon’s former husband, who asked to be identified only as Jason, also lives in Half Moon Bay. He had been in contact with family throughout the day and said they were expressing concerns about Harmon’s behavior.
“It seemed like she was thinking this was the end of the world,” Jason said. “She may have come to Half Moon Bay to protect her daughter. She progressed pretty quickly.”
Worried for her wellbeing, Jason drove by his daughter’s house to check in on Harmon. When he arrived, he noticed a cork from a wine bottle and spilled wine on the doorsteps. Moments later, he said he recalls seeing San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office vehicles driving down the street followed by sirens.
At about 7:25 p.m. that evening Harmon reportedly was walking near the 800 block of Main Street carrying a rifle and a bottle of wine. Following a 911 call, deputies responded to the area and Harmon allegedly fired at the first deputy to arrive. A second deputy arrived and told Harmon to get on the ground. Harmon did not comply, but did put her gun on the ground, according to the Sheriff’s Office press release.
When Harmon reached to pick up the gun again, deputies fired and struck her. She was transported to Stanford Hospital, but later died from her injuries.
Jason was at the scene just minutes after the incident. He said he tried to speak with deputies on the scene to find out whether Harmon was involved in the shooting.
“It all happened quickly,” he said. “I noticed someone on a gurney and no ambulance was moving. So, I guessed if they are not taking off quickly she must be dead.”
In an effort to talk to his daughter before she got information from the law enforcement, Jason drove to pick Grace up from work. Jason said it was challenging to get details from the Sheriff’s Office or the hospital on the status of Harmon. Ultimately the pair returned to the scene at about 10 p.m. The site was still taped off and the father and daughter waited to get more clarity about what happened. They eventually got confirmation that Harmon was killed as a result of the gunfire.
Grace and Jason say they do not understand why Harmon was shot at multiple times. The San Mateo County Coroner’s Office has declined to release information on the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.
“I have sympathies for officers because their lives are in danger,” Jason said, “but she dropped the gun. There should have been things taken place to have been able to get in close enough to wound her not fire multiple shots.”
Since the incident, Grace said she’s received little follow up from the Sheriff’s Office. She said there are no immediate plans yet for a funeral or memorial service; her family is still in shock, she said.
“It’s just hard for me to comprehend that she’s not alive,” Grace said.
Grace recalled her last communication with her mother, a text message. She sent Harmon information on how to do a self-guided meditation.
“She definitely was loved,” she said.