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A ninja with a sword assailed a U.S. Army special operations unit in California

The sword used in an assault by a man dressed as a ninja is seen here.
Kern County Sheriff's Office
The sword used in an assault by a man dressed as a ninja is seen here.

It seems unlikely, but it did indeed happen: A man "wearing full ninja garb" attacked members of a U.S. Army special operations unit in the middle of the night in the California desert, setting off a scramble for safety and resulting in at least two injuries, according to police and other records.

The incident occurred a little after 1 a.m. on Sept. 18, when authorities in Ridgecrest, Calif., got word of a sword-wielding man dressed as a ninja on the loose at the Inyokern Airport in Kern County, north of Los Angeles.

Kern County sheriff's deputies found "the suspect had assaulted a victim at the scene with a sword, and thrown a rock through a hangar window, hitting an additional victim in the head," the sheriff's office said on Friday.

The attack came without any warning

The victims are members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), according to the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which states that the military personnel were at the airport as part of training exercises.

The incident report quickly drew attention after it was posted on Instagram. It describes how a staff sergeant was smoking a late-night cigarette near an airport hangar when "an unknown person wearing full ninja garb" approached him with a question.

"Do you know who I am?" the man asked. The sergeant said he did not. "Do you know where my family is?" the man asked. When the sergeant said he did not know, "the person in ninja garb began to slash" at him with a katana sword, the report states, adding that the sergeant's leg and phone were struck.

The sergeant ran, jumped a fence and reached a building where he joined others from his company. As he and a captain locked the doors and called 911, the assailant kicked and punched doors and windows, according to the report, which has redacted the service members' names.

The Ridgecrest Police Department's blotter entry from that night says a report came in at 1:19 a.m. of a suspect in a ninja outfit, complete with a sword, at Inyokern Airport. The report cited "at least one victim." More than 20 minutes after the initial contact, the blotter says, a 911 call came in from someone at the airport saying 26 special operations military members were "hunkered down in a hanger [sic] wondering where help is."

The ninja did not obey deputies' orders

Police officers located the ninja suspect on a nearby road. But the man "refused to follow commands and brandished the sword at deputies," the sheriff's office said. Projectile rounds were used "but were ineffective," it added. Instead, the man ran. When deputies used a Taser on him, he dropped the sword, and deputies were able to take him into custody. He was identified as Gino Rivera, 35.

Rivera was arrested "for attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a weapon, brandishing a weapon with the intent to resist or prevent an arrest," along with vandalism and obstructing or delaying a peace officer in the performance of their duties, the sheriff's office said.

Both the sergeant and the captain required stitches for their wounds but were cleared to return to duty, the incident report says.

The 160th SOAR's missions include using helicopters to insert Navy SEAL teams and other special operators. It trains for night missions, as some of its operations take place under cover of darkness or in the very early morning. The soldiers in Inyokern were attached to the regiment's 2nd Battalion, which uses Chinook and Black Hawk assault helicopters as well as Gray Eagle drones. The battalion is based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.