4 Police Officers Slain In Wash. Coffee Shop Ambush

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Authorities in Washington state have identified a man with an extensive criminal past as a suspect in the deadly ambush on four police officers. The officers were shot to death at a Tacoma coffee shop while they were working on their laptops at the beginning of the shift.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's the latest we know about the search for a gunman suspected of killing four police officers in a Washington State coffee shop over the weekend. Late yesterday, police surrounded a house in Seattle. They believed the suspected gunman, Maurice Clemmons, was hiding inside. They called for the man to come out. Gunshots were heard, as well as explosions overnight. At one point, police believed Clemmons was wounded. Police have now entered the house, and they say the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, was not there. We have background on the case now from NPR's Martin Kaste.

MARTIN KASTE: The victims were all officers with the Lakewood, Washington police department. They'd stopped in a coffee shop at the start of their shift. They were sitting there working on their laptops, and they were all in uniform. Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, says it's clear that the assailant entered the coffee shop with the intention of shooting cops.

Mr. ED TROYER (Spokesman, Pierce County Sheriff's Office): He walked by them, was able to get into the coffee shop - kind of like he was ordering a coffee. The barista saw him open up his coat and pull out the weapon, and she fled out the back door. And then he turned around and opened fire on the police officers as they were writing reports and doing their general work.

KASTE: The attacker apparently shot only at the officers. Nobody else in the coffee shop was hurt. Troyer says at least two of the police were, as he put it, executed. But he says at least one of the other officers did have a chance to return fire.

The fact that this attack was an ambush is especially worrisome to local cops, given the fact that less than a month ago, a police officer in Seattle was gunned down while he was sitting in his squad car. A suspect is in custody in that case. But Troyer says it's still a disturbing pattern.

Mr. TROYER: Well, obviously, you know, most law enforcement officers across the nation, what's happened in Seattle and other towns and here need to know that even obviously on our down time when we're not even responding to a call, when we're just doing paperwork, we need to watch our backs.

KASTE: All day long, the area around the coffee shop was cordoned off. But still, people tried to get close, some leaving flowers at the nearest intersection. Even when a police helicopter started making low passes and word spread that the gunman might still be in the neighborhood, people such as Cathy Skillen(ph) stayed to watch, peering down the street at the strip mall coffee shop where the dead officers still lay.

Ms. CATHY SKILLEN: I think it's pretty sick, you know, having four policemen killed at once. I think it's just pretty sad.

KASTE: In fact, the shooting brought out a belligerent streak in some, such as cab driver Henry Moran.

Mr. HENRY MORAN (Cab Driver): I think more people should carry guns. I think more people should carry their guns and, you know, be ready.

KASTE: It's an anger that was reflected by the local sheriff, Paul Pastor, who emerged briefly from the crime scene to talk to the cameras.

Sheriff PAUL PASTOR (Pierce County, Washington): The person or people who did this not only harmed us, they harmed the good that we can do in the community. They harmed the good that we work to do every day in the community.

KASTE: It took investigators all day to take stock of the crime scene in the coffee shop, a scene one described as horrific. And the bodies of the four victims weren't removed until 10 hours after they'd been shot. When they were finally taken out, it was dark. Their vehicles were escorted by a long line of squad cars�

(Soundbite of applause)

KASTE: �and onlookers applauded as the procession passed under a giant American flag that was suspended over the roadway between two fire truck ladders.

The four officers were Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards. All were in their late 30s or early 40s, and all had children.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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