Three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers were killed and three others wounded Sunday, less than two weeks after a black man was shot and killed by police here in a confrontation that sparked nightly protests across the city that reverberated nationwide.
Police said the suspect was shot and killed at the scene. Authorities initially believed that two other assailants might be at large, but hours later said that no other active shooters were in the city.
Not again. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish... https://t.co/oE8Cwvc702— LA Police Foundation (@LAPoliceFdtn) July 17, 2016
According to Fox News, two of the deceased officers are from the Baton Rouge Police Department and the third is from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office. A fourth officer, a sheriff's deputy, is in critical condition. Two additional officers suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Sunday afternoon, President Barack Obama called on Americans to lower avoid "overheated" rhetoric and focus on unifying words following the deadly shootings of three police officers.
Obama delivered a statement about the shooting from the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. He said as of now, the killer's motive is unclear. He said officials don't know whether the killer was targeting police or killed them down as they responded to a call.
Obama noted the shooting and other recent incidents in Texas and elsewhere come just before the Republican and Democratic conventions are set to begin. He said that's a time when rhetoric tends to get hotter than usual. Obama said the U.S. doesn't need "careless accusations" intended to score points but should instead try to "temper our words."
He added, attacks like the one in Baton Rouge are happening far too often and constitute an attack on the rule of law.
"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."
The shooting -- which took place just before 9am Central Time, less than a mile from police headquarters -- came amid escalating tensions across the country between the black community and police. The races of the suspect and the officers were not immediately known.
They just going in a circle looking for the people who was shooting pic.twitter.com/yatCkU4HSp— Quis (@Customthoughts_) July 17, 2016
Police hiding behind their cars with their guns pic.twitter.com/QYPe8PMrqS— Quis (@Customthoughts_) July 17, 2016
A witness told WBRZ-TV, a man was dressed in black with his face covered was shooting indiscriminately when he walked out between a convenience store and car wash across from Hammond Air Plaza, according to Fox radio affiliate WJBO.
Baton Rouge Police Cpl. L'Jean Mckneely Jr. says the suspect's body was found next door, outside of a fitness center. Fox News reports a police robot was brought in to ensure there were no explosives on the dead suspect or in the vicinity.
A government official told Fox News that authorities are working to confirm a report that a shooter was seen with an an AR-type weapon and wearing body armor.
The attack began at a gas station on Airline Highway. The slain shooter's body was next door, outside a fitness center. Police said they were using a specialized robot to check for explosives near the body.
Gov. John Bel Edwards rushed to the hospital where the shot officers were taken.
"Rest assured, every resource available to the State of Louisiana will be used to ensure the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice," Edwards said in a statement.
A witness told television station WAFB that he saw a masked man in black shorts and shirt running from the scene where the three officers were killed.
Brady Vancel said the man looked like a pedestrian running with a rifle in his hand, rather than someone trained to move with a rifle.
Vancel said he had gone to work on a flooring job near the gas station when he heard semi-automatic gunfire and perhaps a handgun. He saw a man in a red shirt lying in an empty parking lot and "another gunman running away as more shots were being fired back and forth from several guns."
Police riding around the parking lot multiple times pic.twitter.com/6LEjDI63lE— Quis (@Customthoughts_) July 17, 2016
On Sunday afternoon, more than a dozen police cars with lights flashing were massed near a commercial area of car dealerships and chain restaurants on the highway. Police armed with long guns stopped at least two vehicles driving away from the scene and checked their trunks.
That area was about a quarter of a mile from a gas station, where almost nightly protests had been taking place.
Five officers were rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said.
Of the two who survived the shooting, one was in critical condition and the other was in fair condition. Multiple police vehicles were stationed at the hospital, and a police officer with a long gun was blocking the parking lot at the emergency room.
One officer was sent to Baton Rouge General Medical Center and was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, spokeswoman Meghan Parrish said.
Officers and deputies from the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office were involved, Hicks said.
Airline Hwy (US 61) remains closed in both directions between Goodwood Blvd and I-12 due to police activity. Use alternate route.— Baton Rouge Traffic (@BR_Traffic) July 17, 2016
Police-community relations in Baton Rouge have been especially tense since the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black man killed by white officers July 5 after a scuffle at a convenience store. The killing was captured on widely circulated cellphone video.
It was followed a day later by the shooting death of another black man in Minnesota, whose girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath of his death on Facebook. The next day, a black gunman in Dallas opened fire on police at a protest about the police shootings, killing five officers and heightening tensions even further.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux: "To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what's in men's hearts."https://t.co/saWrr7hZnq— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 17, 2016
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux: "To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what's in men's hearts. And until we come together as a nation, as a people, to heal as a people. If we don’t do that and this madness continues, we will surly perish as a people.”
Thousands of people have protested Sterling's death, and Baton Rouge police arrested more than 200 demonstrators.
Sterling's nephew condemned the killing of the three officers.
Terrance Carter spoke Sunday to The Associated Press by telephone, saying the family just wants peace.
"My uncle wouldn't want this," Carter said. "He wasn't this type of man.
Michelle Rogers said Sunday the pastor at her church had led prayers Sunday for Sterling's family and police officers, asking members of the congregation to stand up if they knew an officer.
Rogers said an officer in the congregation hastily left the church near the end of the service, and a pastor announced that "something had happened."
"But he didn't say what. Then we started getting texts about officers down," she said.
Rogers and her husband drove near the scene, but were blocked at an intersection closed down by police.
"I can't explain what brought us here," she said. "We just said a prayer in the car for the families."
We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2016
“We must not turn our backs on each other. We must not be indifferent to each other. We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of the police officers who were killed and injured today.”