OGDEN, Utah (Reuters) - Six police officers were shot, one fatally, when a gunman identified as a former U.S. soldier opened fire on them as they served a drug-related search warrant in Utah, authorities said on Thursday.
The gunman fired on the officers late on Wednesday as they approached a home in a quiet residential neighborhood of Ogden, about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden police Lieutenant Danielle Croyle said.
“We have lost a brother. We will grieve this loss. He will be sorely missed,” Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said of local drug task force agent Jared Francom, who was pronounced dead on Thursday.
Three Ogden police officers remained in critical condition at McKay-Dee Hospital, spokesman Chris Dallin said, while a Weber County Sheriff’s sergeant was in stable condition.
An agent with the Roy Police Department was treated at Ogden Regional Medical Center and released, the hospital said.
Lieutenant Darin Parke, commander of the narcotics task force that covers Weber and Morgan counties in Utah, said the shooting was the worst outbreak of violence against local police officers that he could recall.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert said he was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting, calling it a “dreadful reminder that we should all be grateful for our brave law enforcement professionals who daily put their lives on the line.”
Police identified the suspected gunman as 37-year-old Matthew Stewart, and said he was under guard at a hospital where he was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries suffered when officers returned fire.
Ogden police chief Wayne Tarwater said Stewart had a limited criminal history, but did not elaborate.
Neighbor Jerri Johnson, who lives two houses away from Stewart, described him as “really quiet.” The mother of three said: “We’d see each other across the yard and say hello.”
A U.S. Army spokesman said Stewart was on active duty in the Army from 1994 to 1998.
Police released few details of the incident that broke out in Ogden, a city of more than 82,000 people, after a “knock and announce” drug-related search warrant by the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Task Force, a visibly shaken Tarwater said.
Neighbors reported hearing shots ring out. Shayne Blakeley, 43, who lives two blocks away from the shooting scene, said he was out walking his yellow Labrador at the time.
“I was walking down the street and I heard about 12 shots go off,” he said. “Then all of the cops started to arrive.”
He counted at least 21 police vehicles at the scene, adding: “It shouldn’t happen in our neighborhood.”
Johnson, who was home when she heard the shooting begin, said that as a reflex she opened her front door after hearing the commotion outside.
“I saw three police officers on my front lawn. One had already been shot and was lying on the lawn. The other two were trying to get him help,” she said. “It was unbelievable, the amount of gunfire.”
After telling her children, ages 8, 10 and 14, to get down on the floor of the bedroom, she saw officers drag the wounded policeman across her lawn as bullets flew.
Candles and flowers were left at a church in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. Dozens of officers waited at the hospital for word on the condition of their wounded colleagues.
Family members of the slain officer later gathered at an Ogden park, and the officer’s brother told reporters through tears that Francom “gave his life doing what he loved to do.”
But the brother also asked the public to remember the family of the suspect. “I‘m sure this must be a difficult time for them as it is for our family,” he said.
Federal officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the scene of the crime on Thursday, but would not comment to reporters.
Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper, Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston; Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Alex Dobuzinskis and Cynthia Johnston