by St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
FERGUSON, Mo. — Officers swarmed a home in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday morning in a search for those responsible for the shooting of two police officers outside the Ferguson Police Department around midnight.
The two officers shot early Thursday are expected to survive, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said. They were treated at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and released Thursday, though one still had a bullet lodged behind his ear.
Belmar called the shootings, which happed as protests outside the department were dwindling early Thursday morning, an “ambush” on police. At least three shots were fired at police just after midnight as police faced protesters who had gathered outside the police station, police said.
Later Thursday, tactical officers surrounded a brick bungalow. The home is about four blocks west of the police department. Officers went in with dogs about 9:30 a.m. A neighbor said he saw police bring two men out of the home. The woman who neighbors say rents the home was also brought out in handcuffs.
The neighbor also heard police talk of a third man hiding in the attic. Police later tried to enter the attic from the roof but were beginning to wrap up about 10:15 a.m. without bringing anyone else out.
Authorities have not discussed the situation at the house.
Belmar said one officer injured in the shooting was with his department. The other is a Webster Groves Police officer.
Belmar said in a Wednesday morning press conference that the Webster Groves officer was shot just below his right eye and that the bullet was lodged just below the officer’s right ear. That officer is 32 and has been on the force for five years.
The bullet that hit the county officer in the right shoulder exited from the right side of his back, Belmar said. That officer is 41 and has been in law enforcement for 14 years.
Belmar said he believes the shots came from a handgun, not a rifle, based on the injuries and the sound of the shots.
The chief said no suspects have been identified in the shootings but that detectives recovered shell casings near the scene. He said it was not clear if those shell casings were from the shooting. He said some witnesses have been “forthright” in helping police with the investigation.
“We’re lucky by God’s grace that we didn’t lose those two officers last night,” Belmar said. “We could have buried two police officers next week because of this.”
The officers had been standing in a line of about 25 officers when the shots were fired. The gunfire came from the area of a parking lot about 125 yards away and was “parallel to the ground,” Belmar said, leading him to believe the officers were targeted.
“When you listen to the audio (in video from the scene), you can actually hear those shots singing,” Belmar said.
The chief said that 60-70 protesters had come to the Ferguson Police Department earlier in the night, some of them blocking roads and sidewalks. The protests prompted neighboring police departments to send officers, some in riot gear. At least three arrests were made during the protests before the shots were fired. That came later in the night as the protest began to dwindle.
Belmar said he felt police had been fortunate since protests erupted in Ferguson in August, after the police shooting of Michael Brown, because officers patrolling those protests had not been injured.
“I think it’s a miracle that we haven’t had any instances such as this over the summer and fall,” Belmar said Wednesday.
The chief said one of the biggest challenges facing police on the protest lines is discerning peaceful protesters from troublemakers.
“This is another layer that makes it very difficult for our officers out there,” he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement Thursday offering the Justice Department’s “full range of investigative resources.” He noted that “Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards for the past several months.”
Politicians responded to the shootings early Thursday. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger tweeted out a message: “Our prayers are with the two officers injured in the line of duty overnight.”
And U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), called the shootings “a criminal act that jeopardized the lives of police officers and protesters both. I hope the officers have a full recovery and pray for them and their families. It’s time for healing and reform, and acts of violence have no place in this process.”
Ferguson Councilwoman Kim Tihen woke to the news Thursday that two officers had been shot.
“I’m concerned about escalating violence, especially against our officers,” she said. “They’ve endured so much stress already.”
Tihen, who spent four years as a Ferguson police officer, now works as a detective in another municipality. She represents the First Ward in Ferguson, which is on the northeast side of town. She has been on the council about three years.
“We want peace in our community,” she said.
With all of the big changes at the top, namely the resignations of the police chief and city manager, Tihen said she wonders what would satisfy the protesters.
“I’m not sure what more they want,” she said. “I would like to ask them come to us, tell us what we can do to continue to heal the community.”
“We are willing to work with them, the protesters in general,” she said.
The gunfire was captured on video by some of those at the scene.
After the shots were fired, the scene turned chaotic. Some protesters dropped to the ground. Others fled the scene.
Several members of the media, including a Post-Dispatch reporter and photographer, were near the officers who were shot.
Media and police ran behind two brick walls and officers pulled out their weapons. Then a line of police cars from more than a dozen departments arrived.
Police closed South Florissant Road in front of the police station and cordoned a section of the area off with crime scene tape.
Belmar said the shots were fired from across Florissant Road, northwest of the police department. Witnesses said the shots appeared to come from the direction of a block of homes on Tiffin Avenue that intersects South Florissant Road, where the police department is located.
Bradley Rayford, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Ferguson since the unrest began there last summer, said he saw three or four muzzle flashes from the crest of Tiffin Hill, a residential neighborhood with large century-old homes.
He was in front of the police line on South Florissant at the time. He said he couldn’t tell if the shots were being fired from a vehicle.
At 2:30 a.m. a contingent of about 25 officers ascended the hill and began scouring the front yard of a home directly behind a tire business, their flashlights sweeping in arcs as they searched for evidence.
About 25 protesters remained at the scene about two hours after the shooting. Police wouldn’t let them leave until they gave statements.
The protesters seemed to be two camps. The first were there to make a point that they weren’t satisfied with the resignations of City Manager John Shaw and Police Chief Thomas Jackson. They were chanting in unison.
The other was volatile, angry, hurling profanities at the police, media and other protesters. Some skirmishes broke out among the factions.
At least two people were taken into custody, but those arrests occurred before the gunfire erupted.
Susan Weich, Christine Byers, Paul Hampel, Kim Bell and Joel Currier, all of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this story.
Photo: Police take cover after two officers were shot while standing guard in front of the Ferguson Police Station on Thursday, March 12, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)