Two police officers in central Iowa were shot and killed early Wednesday morning in a pair of “ambush-style attacks,” the Des Moines Police Department said.
Police said both officers were sitting in their squad cars when they were shot and killed.
Authorities on Wednesday morning named Scott Michael Greene, 46, as the suspect in the shootings that killed the officers from Des Moines and nearby Urbandale. They said Greene, an Urbandale resident, was last seen driving a blue Ford F-150 with a silver-colored topper.
“Greene is believed to be armed and should be considered dangerous,” the Urbandale and Des Moines police departments said in a statement, urging people not to approach him but to call 911 instead.
Authorities in the Des Moines area appeared shaken by the double shooting, which came during a year that has seen bloody attacks on officers in cities like Dallas and Baton Rouge, assaults that fueled a sense of anxiety among law enforcement nationwide.
During a news briefing, Sgt. Paul Parizek, a Des Moines police spokesman, said it did not appear there was any interaction between the officers and “the coward … that shot them while they sat in their car.” Parizek then briefly choked back emotion as another officer reached a hand out to show him support.
Parizek said later Wednesday morning that authorities did not know what may have motivated the shooting, and he noted that sometimes, investigations do not turn up clear answers to that question.
“We’re not anywhere close to that,” he said. “We may never know what motivated this act.”
A video uploaded to YouTube last month by an account named Scott Greene was titled “Police Abuse, Civil Rights Violation at Urbandale High School” and appeared to show the person recording the footage arguing with police officers asking him to leave the area.
In the video, the man recording the footage told an officer he was assaulted and almost mugged while “peacefully protesting.” An officer is later seen explaining that the Confederate battle flag he was waving violated the school’s code.
“In the current social climate that we’re in, when you fly a confederate flag standing in front of several African American people, that’s going to cause a disturbance,” the officer said. As a result, the officer said, this man was no longer allowed on the school’s property. Another officer later identifies the person recording the footage as Scott Greene.
Police said they had heard about YouTube videos possibly posted by Greene, but a spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that he had not seen them yet.
The killings prompted schools in the area to close and launched law enforcement officers from multiple agencies into a sweeping search for Greene, who detectives identified as a suspect within hours of the shooting.
The first shooting in Iowa occurred at 1:06 a.m. when an officer in Urbandale, which is part of metropolitan Des Moines, responded to a report of shots fired, Parizek told The Washington Post.
That officer was shot while sitting alone in his patrol car at 70th Street and Aurora Ave., next to Urbandale High School. He was pronounced dead on the scene, Parizek said.
About 20 minutes later, Des Moines police officers responding to the shooting of the first officer came across a patrol car at Merle Hay Rd. and Sheridan Dr., an intersection about two miles away, where they found another officer with a gunshot wound, according to Parizek. The Des Moines officer, who had been among those responding, was transported to the Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where he too was pronounced dead.
Neither of the officers’ names have been released as the families have not yet been notified, according to officials in Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city.
Police said that both shootings appeared to have been ambushes, and Parizek said both officers “clearly were just seated in their cars when they were shot.”
On the scene where an officer was found shot at Merle Hay road and Sheridan dr early Wed. morning. pic.twitter.com/KupgOHWr6O
— Brian Powers (@bpowersphoto) November 2, 2016
“Everyone that can be on it is,” Parizek said at a press conference at 5 a.m. local time.
Police in the area “doubled up” officers, having them work in pairs for safety, officials said. By 5 a.m. local time, squad cars and mobile command centers lined the street near where the second officer was shot.
“You’ve got the best police department in the nation right here,” Parizek said. “This is what we do, this is who we are. We’re going to be here tomorrow.”
Parizek said the ongoing situation posed a clear threat to law enforcement officers in the area.
“These guys were gunned down sitting in their car, doing nothing wrong … There’s somebody out there shooting police officers,” he said during a briefing. “We hope we find him before anybody else gets hurt. There’s a clear and present danger to police officers right now.”
The Urbandale Community School District said it was canceling all classes and closing all facilities Wednesday “per the recommendations of Urbandale and Des Moines law enforcement,” school officials said in a statement. They also asked staffers not to report to work.
The Des Moines public school system said that they would have school on Wednesday, a decision made after consulting with the city’s police chief.
“Our community is in mourning today at the news that two police officers – one from Des Moines and one from Urbandale – were killed overnight,” the school system said in a statement.
While Urbandale had canceled classes because one of the shootings was near one of its high schools, the Des Moines school system said it determined there was “no need to cancel classes in Des Moines,” but added that it would remain in touch with the police throughout the day.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov Kim Reynolds said they were briefed about the shootings shortly after they occurred.
“An attack on public safety officers is an attack on the public safety of all Iowans,” Branstad (R) and Reynolds (R) said in a joint statement. “We call on Iowans to support our law enforcement officials in bringing this suspect to justice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the police officers who were tragically killed in the line of duty as well as the officers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way.”
There have been at least 49 officers shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to preliminary statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths. In a report covering the first half of the year, the fund said that more than half of the officers fatally shot by suspects were shot in ambushes.
While the number of police officers killed by suspects declined last year, that tally has already increased so far this year. In some cases, officers have been killed in high-profile incidents, including ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July that left eight police officers dead. Those killings also occurred at a time of intense national focus on fatal shootings by police officers, incidents that have prompted protests of law enforcement that, in turn, have caused officers to say they feel vilified and uneasy.
The Des Moines officer who was slain appears to be the first fatally shot in the line of duty since 1977, according to the police department’s website and records kept by Officer Down Memorial Page, another group that tracks such deaths.
This is the latest tragedy to strike the Des Moines Police Dept. In March, two officers were killed while transporting a prisoner after they were struck head-on by a vehicle driving at more than 100 mph the wrong way down Interstate 80. The blood-alcohol content of the man driving the wrong way was three times the legal limit, according to toxicology tests, WHO reported.
More information on the shooting is expected at another press conference later Wednesday morning.
J. Freedom du Lac contributed to this report.
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