[UPDATE: The Baton Rouge gunman has been identified as Gavin Eugene Long of Kansas City, according to CBS News and Fox News. Long, a black male, committed the crime on his 29th birthday.]
LOUISIANA — (Scroll down for video) — Three police officers were killed and at least three others injured in a shooting Sunday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities said that one suspect has been killed, and the sheriff’s office said that they believe two other potential suspects may be at large. While the injured officers were taken to nearby hospitals, people who lived in the vicinity were ordered to hunker down and stay indoors.
Details about the shooting remained unclear by Sunday afternoon, and police did not immediately say whether they believe the officers were targeted or if they were injured during a law enforcement action. The shooting happened in a region still on edge after police fatally shot a man there, sparking heated protests that prompted a heavy law enforcement response that some have questioned as unnecessarily forceful.
Officers from the Baton Rouge police force as well as deputies from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office were involved in the shooting, authorities said, though they did not specify the agencies of the officers who were killed. Multiple officers from both agencies were injured in the shooting and brought to hospitals, police said.
“This is an unspeakable and unjustified attack on all of us at a time when we need unity and healing,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said in a statement. “Rest assured, every resource available to the state of Louisiana will be used to ensure the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.”
Edwards planned to speak more about the shooting at a news conference later Sunday, his office said.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he had spoken to officials from the White House, who offered to assist in any way possible.
“It’s touched, basically, people all across the country,” he told WAFB in a telephone interview just after noon. “The phones have not stopped ringing.”
Holden could not confirm reports from various media outlets that as many as seven officers had been wounded.
“In the word community is the word unity,” Holden said. “If this is not a defining moment for us, to bridge the divide and come out with a unified voice, than I don’t know what is.”
A spokesman for the FBI in New Orleans said he was “unsure” whether the officers were targeted specifically, or whether something else might have sparked the incident. He declined to comment further.
But the shooting deaths came during a particularly deadly year for law enforcement, and not long after a gunman who said he was enraged by police killings targeted police in Dallas.
“When a police officer is shot or assaulted, it makes every single citizen in the country a little less safe,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union. “When police officers have to worry about citizens committing unprovoked acts of violence against them it makes it more difficult for them to interact with citizens and that is a key factor in law enforcement.”
The three deaths Sunday brought the total number of officers killed in the line of duty to 30 so far this year – up from about 16 at this point last year. The average mid-year total, according to FBI data, is about 25. The tally this year has spiked significantly in recent days from three incidents just in recent days: Two bailiffs, both deputized by the sheriff there, were killed in a Michigan courthouse last week, not long after five police officers were fatally shot in Dallas.
In May, Edwards signed a “Blue Lives Matter” bill into law, making Louisiana the first state in the country where police officers, firefighters and other first responders are a protected class under hate-crime law. Edwards, the son of a sheriff, said that this was needed because these people “put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances” and deserve this protection.
No other state includes police officers as a protected class under hate-crime laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But at least 37 states – including Louisiana – have enhanced penalties for assaulting police officers. In some states, hurting a police officer can be an “aggravating factor” to an assault or battery charge. Meanwhile, killing a police officer can also be an aggravating factor or circumstance in many states to make a crime eligible for the death penalty.
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) July 17, 2016
“I condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault. These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop.”
Obama said he had offered the federal government’s full support to officials in Louisiana, vowing that “justice will be done.”
While Obama noted that it was unclear yet what may have motivated the shooting, he emphatically called it “the work of cowards who speak for no one.” Obama has been criticized in the past for his statements about police, which some commentators and politicians have described as too critical of law enforcement.
Last week, at a town hall meeting on race and policing, Obama was confronted by one such critic – Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who has called Obama’s rhetoric on the issue “divisive.” Obama rejected the suggestion that he had not been supportive enough of police and said he has been “unequivocal in condemning any rhetoric directed at police officers.”
Obama asked Sunday to be updated throughout the day about the shooting, according to the White House, which said officials there were in touch with local authorities in Baton Rouge.
Police in Baton Rouge told the Advocate newspaper that the bloodshed on Sunday was related to an active-shooter situation, but further details remained hazy. “There is still an active scene,” an official told the Advocate. “They are investigating. Right now we are trying to get our arms around everything.”
Authorities said that the shooting, which occurred one mile from police headquarters, had been “contained,” but they were still asking people to remain indoors while they sought the two possible other suspects. The FBI New Orleans Division sent personnel to the scene to assist. “At this time, our focus is to help identify and bring to justice those who are responsible for this heinous act,” a spokesman said.
In a video sent to WAFB by someone who said she witnessed the shooting, a woman is heard saying that she saw a man with “a mask on looking like a ninja.” The woman, sounding panicked, said: “He’s about to start popping again. Oh my God!”
Another local woman told The Washington Post that she was playing tennis with her two daughters and her husband when their game was interrupted by gunfire.
The woman, who asked to have her name withheld, was in a park about a mile from the shooting, one she chose because she thought it was located a safe distance from recent unrest. It was a beautiful morning, she said, until the gunfire erupted.
“It sounded like a shootout. After many rounds, we started to hear sirens and saw a police car driving fast down Drusilla Lane and then we got out of there,” she said. She added: “I feel trapped in our own home. I can’t take my kids out and I thought we would be safe here because we are close to a police station.”
Cell phone video allegedly taken as the shooting unfolded and aired by CBS affiliate WAFB shows police vehicles descending on a gas station while gunfire echoes in the background.
Reached by phone, Justin Alford, the owner of the B-Quick Convenience Store on Airline Highway, said he couldn’t comment about the incident at this time.
“Please pray for us,” he said. When asked if he would be able to speak more about the incident later, he said, “I’m not sure. It’s a sad situation.”
Local reports said that police had sent a robot in the store after the gunfire to check for explosives, but Alford said he could not confirm that.
Mark Clements, who lives two blocks behind the nearby Hammond Aire shopping plaza, said he heard 10 to 12 gunshots coming from that direction around 8:40 a.m. He was letting his dogs out in his backyard when he heard the gunfire, followed by sirens and helicopters.
His neighborhood, known as Tara, has been feeling the tension over police shootings since officers fatally shot Alton Sterling earlier this month outside a convenience store.
Sterling’s death, partially captured in videos from the scene that were widely viewed on social media and television, prompted intense protests that stretched for days in Baton Rouge. A day after Sterling was killed, a Minnesota man was fatally shot during a traffic stop, and the following day the gunman in Dallas killed five officers and wounded nine others.
At least 15 people have been demonstrating outside the Baton Rouge police headquarters at most times, Clements said. The largest protest occurred on on July 9, when people lined Airport Highway for a quarter of a mile, carrying signs, singing and chanting. During the protests in the city, more than 100 people were arrested, and demonstrators and activist groups have questioned the aggressive response from police.
In Baton Rouge, police said earlier this week that they responded in that way to protests because they had received a threat to law enforcement officials in the city. According to police, a teenager accused accused of stealing guns during a burglary told investigators that he and others involved were seeking bullets to shoot officers. Police officials said that they felt this threat was credible enough that it shaped their response to protests.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have sued the Baton Rouge police and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office for their response to protests, accusing law enforcement officials of using excessive force during the demonstrations.
“What you saw in the response was because of the very real and viable threats against law enforcement,” East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III said last week. “All I can say beyond that is look what happened in Dallas – a very peaceful protest and then some crazy madman did what he did.”
The shooting Sunday illustrated the dangers facing police officers, said Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, pointing to the Dallas attacks that authorities there had attributed to a lone gunman acting as a sort of sniper.
“Communities and legislators say we don’t want our police to look like warriors, we want them to look like peacekeepers,” Lomax said. “But one element of war is being attacked by snipers. Now they are going to have to be properly equipped and trained to deal with this.
In the hours after the shooting, dozens of people gathered outside the ambulance entrance at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. Some who arrived Sunday were still wearing their suits and dresses, apparently having headed to the hospital after church services earlier in the day.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D) the timing of the shooting is devastating for Baton Rouge, which is still working recover from the most intense protests that unfolded on the city’s streets.
Marcelle, a former Baton Rouge city councilwoman, said that she was in church at Disciples Outreach Ministry in Baton Rouge this morning when the shooting broke out.
“My pastor came up to me and asked me to pray the prayer of peace and unity,” Marcelle said. “I got up and lead the prayer, and that was right around the same time that this incident happened.”
“I’m pretty shaken up that at the same time I was praying for peace someone was killing our officers,” she said. “It has to stop.”
Marcelle said in an interview just before that it is still too soon to know for sure whether the officers killed were deliberately targeted, and said that she has received contradictory information. Some initial reports said that officers were called to a targeted ambush, while others say that officers responded to an ongoing gunfight between residents and ended up in the line of fire.
“Right now I haven’t gotten either of those stories confirmed or denied.” She said.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Peter Holley, Wesley Lowery, Mark Berman
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards statement: “This is an unspeakable and unjustified attack on all of us at a time when we need unity and healing. Rest assured, every resource available to the State of Louisiana will be used to ensure the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice. For now, I’m asking all Louisianans to join Donna and me in praying for the officers who were involved and their families as the details continue to unfold.”
Donald Trump Statement: “We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today. How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country? We demand law and order.”
President Obama statement: “I condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge. For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault. These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop.
I’ve offered my full support, and the full support of the federal government, to Governor Edwards, Mayor Holden, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Baton Rouge Police Department. And make no mistake – justice will be done.
We may not yet know the motives for this attack, but I want to be clear: there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None. These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes. The officers in Baton Rouge; the officers in Dallas – they were our fellow Americans, part of our community, part of our country, with people who loved and needed them, and who need us now – all of us – to be at our best.
Today, on the Lord’s day, all of us stand united in prayer with the people of Baton Rouge, with the police officers who’ve been wounded, and with the grieving families of the fallen. May God bless them all.”
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) July 17, 2016
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