[UPDATE: Police chief: A suspect has been arrested in the shooting death of a San Antonio police detective.]
Police in San Antonio said Monday that they did not believe the fatal shooting of an officer there was tied to another ambush in St. Louis that occurred hours later.
“I will say that it is certainly a coincidence, but we’re not going to venture to say that it’s connected,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
Authorities continued Monday to hunt for a suspect wanted in the killing of Detective Benjamin Marconi, who was slain while writing a traffic ticket in front of police headquarters a day earlier. They also said Monday that the attacker had gone inside the police building before the shooting.
Marconi was one of three officers shot Sunday in attacks that police described as ambushes, a spate of targeted shootings that also wounded officers in Missouri and Florida. The other two officers – who, like Marconi, were sitting inside their patrol cars when they were shot – are expected to survive.
These shootings occurred four months after eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge were gunned down in separate ambushes just days apart, attacks that added to fears among law enforcement and have helped fuel an increase in the number of officers killed by gunfire this year.
Officers in San Antonio “absolutely felt targeted,” McManus said during a briefing Monday morning. “I feel they were targeted.”
McManus said that he believed the attacker in San Antonio was going after a member of law enforcement rather than specifically targeting Marconi.
“I think the uniform was the target, and anyone, the first person who happened along, was the person that he targeted,” McManus said.
Police also said Monday that the suspected attacker had briefly visited the department’s headquarters not long before the shooting, although McManus said investigators were not sure what prompted this visit.
“I don’t know why he was at headquarters,” McManus said. “We have some ideas why we believe he may have been in headquarters, but we’re not quite sure.”
Officials released video footage they said showed the unidentifed suspect entering the department’s headquarters in downtown San Antonio.
In one video, the man identified as the suspect is seen leaning over and speaking to an intercom outside the building moments before the automatic doors swing open and he walks inside. The same man apparently walks back out of the building just 26 seconds later. Another video clip shows the man walking inside the lobby.
McManus said there were no uniformed police personnel in the lobby at the time. He declined to say what this man said at the intercom that prompted the doors to be opened for him to enter the building.
Marconi, 50, had been with the San Antonio police for two decades. On Sunday morning, he was making a traffic stop in front of police headquarters when an attacker parked behind his police car and walked up to the window.
The attacker fired a shot into the car, hitting Marconi in the head, before reaching “in through the open window and fired a second shot,” hitting him again, McManus said during a briefing Sunday. Marconi was brought to an area hospital and was pronounced dead not long after.
“This type of crime cannot and will not be tolerated,” San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor said in a statement.
Hours after Marconi was killed, an officer was sitting in a patrol car in St. Louis when someone pulled up and opened fire. That attacker was later fatally shot by police when he fired at officers searching for him, authorities said.
The same evening, an officer in Sanibel, a small city in southwest Florida, was in his car after a traffic stop when someone drove by and opened fire. The officer was treated and released from a hospital, while the suspect was arrested after a shootout with police.
These shootings come on the heels of a deadly attack earlier this month in Iowa, where police said that a man ambushed two police officers, killing both of them, as they sat in their police cars.
There have also been a series of other shootings this month. An Alaska officer was ambushed and shot multiple times, while in California a deputy sheriff responding to a call about a suspicious van was fatally shot. A New York Police Department officer was killed and another wounded while responding to a reported home invasion.
The San Antonio attack occurred just 270 miles away from where five Dallas police officers were killed during a protest in July against police shootings in other cities. Ten days after the bloodshed in Dallas – the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – another lone attacker gunned down three officers in Baton Rouge.
Through Monday, there have been 60 officers fatally shot this year, up from 36 at the same point last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks line-of-duty deaths. There have been 126 officers killed this year, up from 109 last year, according to the fund’s data.
The number of officers fatally shot by suspects has declined in recent decades, falling from an average of 127 officers shot and killed during the 1970s to about 53 officers each year during the last decade.
But during an era of protests nationwide against how police use force, current and former members of law enforcement have described feeling under siege, and the high-profile ambush attacks this year have ratcheted up fears among those who serve. Some officers have said they keep their guns with them at times they otherwise would not, while others described being more wary when in public.
FBI Director James Comey, speaking to a gathering of police chiefs last month, said officers were serving during “a uniquely difficult time in American law enforcement.”
In San Antonio, McManus ordered officers to double up while on patrol until they catch the suspect in Marconi’s death. He said that as the sprawling manhunt for Maconi’s killer approached the 24-hour mark, police had questioned a number of people and at one point took into custody, and then released, a person of interest.
Authorities have not publicly named the suspect in San Antonio, and it was not immediately clear whether police had identified him. McManus described him as a black man in his 20s and said investigators “don’t know if he’s from the area,” adding that police had cast a very wide net to try and locate him. He also said that police had gotten “a lot of information” from the dashboard camera in Marconi’s car.
“We have pulled out all the stops,” McManus said, adding that the manhunt “will not stop until this person is in custody.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman