Wash. Officials Search For Suspect In Police Shootings

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Authorities in Washington are searching for the man who shot and killed four police officers in an early morning ambush at a coffee shop near McChord Air Force Base, in Tacoma. NPR's Martin Kaste updates guest host Robert Smith on the investigation.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

Police in Washington State are calling it a targeted execution. A gunman shot and killed four police officers in a coffee shop this morning. The killings occurred just outside the city of Tacoma, near McChord Air Force Base.

NPR's Martin Kaste is at the scene of the shootings.

Martin, can you tell us about what happened this morning?

MARTIN KASTE: Well, what the sheriff's department is telling us is that shortly after eight, it was about 8:15, there were four officers of the Lakewood Police Department. That's a small suburb right next to Tacoma here. They were sitting in this coffee shop, doing their beginning-of-shift paperwork on their laptops, when a man walked in and aimed directly at them, shot them and killed them.

He apparently did not take shots at anybody else in the coffee shop. No one else was injured. It was clearly an attack on the officers, who were wearing uniforms and had squad cars out in the parking lots. So it was very abrupt. They're calling it an ambush. And the whole place since then has become a massive crime scene.

SMITH: Well, do police have any leads on the suspected gunman?

KASTE: They have certainly been chasing things. There have been various encounters where they've tracked certain cars, certain vehicles around Tacoma. Apparently, nothing has come out of that yet. Really, right now, they have an unidentified man, who is described as scruffy-looking and African-American. That's really all they have to go on, as far as we know. And they're searching the region for him.

SMITH: So I guess this happened in, technically, unincorporated area. Describe this place to me.

KASTE: This is sort of a crossroads here. Just south of Tacoma, everything kind of comes together. There's McChord Air Force Base here on my left. There is -the Pacific Lutheran University campus is a few blocks in another direction. We're between - the shooting happened exactly on the dividing line between Lakewood and unincorporated Pierce County, Tacoma, is just a block in the other direction. And apparently, police and sheriff's deputies would often meet at this coffee shop. It was commonly known that they would go there because it was so convenient as a sort of interjurisdictional meeting spot. And they would often meet there to trade information, to pass off cases and do paperwork in the morning.

SMITH: I understand this is the second time in a month that a gunman in the Seattle area has targeted police officers in a killing. Have the authorities said anything about a possible link between today and the earlier shooting?

KASTE: They're very clear that they don't have a motive yet for this, but at the same time, a spokesman for the sheriff's department here said they can't help but wonder about whether this is some sort of a copycat. They have a suspect in Seattle. A man is in custody. He was shot and is in custody for shooting and killing someone, a Seattle police officer, in his squad car on Halloween night. So, you know, there is no on at large, as far as they know, connected to that crime, but at the same time, they have to wonder. This is so similar and that it's an ambush that's definitely on their minds.

SMITH: NPR's Martin Kaste is just outside of Tacoma, Washington.

Thanks, Martin.

KASTE: You bet.

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