The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

7 officers shot, 1 fatally, after attempt to serve warrant in South Carolina

Seven law enforcement officers were shot, one fatally, after a suspect opened fire on deputies attempting to serve a search warrant Oct. 3 near Florence, S.C. (Video: Reuters)

Authorities in Florence, S.C., on Thursday said they had begun a “very large, intense investigation” into the barrage of gunfire a day earlier that killed one police officer and injured six others.

The violence sent tremors through the law enforcement community, prompting condolences from across the country that echoed the outpouring seen after officers were slain in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Iowa and New York in recent years. The shootout occurred on a residential street as police attempted to serve a warrant, highlighting the dangers that officers face during some routine interactions.

"Those cops put their badges on every single day and they know what tragedy could await them,” Allen Heidler, chief of the Florence Police Department, said during a press conference Thursday.

Heidler spoke personally about Sgt. Terrence Carraway, the veteran police officer who was killed, describing him as a friend and a member of the force for three decades.

“It is a tragic loss of life for me,” Heidler said during the emotional news briefing. He praised Carraway as an officer and a person, adding: “He was a giant of a man but he was the proverbial gentle giant. And I loved him."

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said a suspect is in custody, but he will not be identified until charged. He said his agency is leading a homicide investigation into the incident.

“We do have a suspect in custody,” Lott said, “but there is no danger to the community.”

Local officials said sheriff’s deputies near Florence were serving a warrant on Wednesday when the suspect began firing at them. Florence police officers headed to the upscale Vintage Place subdivision to help.

Florence County emergency management officials said they responded to a “report of shots fired and officer down” at 4:37 p.m. The siege felt like it lasted “forever,” Heidler said. He also said he did not believe that his officers -- at least one of whom had just gotten off duty but responded when the call for help came in -- anticipated the level of firepower that they encountered.

The attacker “had an advantage,” Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone told reporters on Wednesday night. "The officers couldn’t get to the ones that were down.”

According to authorities, the suspect fired from inside a home and then barricaded himself inside with an unspecified number of children, prompting a standoff that lasted about two hours until the suspect were arrested.

Lott declined to provide details about the shooting, including how many weapons were used and how many shots were fired during the fusillade.

“We haven’t got that far yet to even process the crime scene,” he said.

Five civilians were taken to local hospitals from the scene, although it’s unclear whether they were injured by the hail of gunfire. Ryon A. Watkins, chief of the Florence County Emergency Medical Services, would not say if any of them were shot or detail their injuries.

In addition to Carraway, three other Florence police officers were shot -- one while still in his vehicle, Heidler said. Three Florence County deputies were also shot. The wounded officers were removed after law enforcement authorities used an armored vehicle to drive in, officials said.

Heidler said two of the three Florence police officers had been treated and released from the hospital, while one was still hospitalized on Thursday afternoon. The conditions of the three deputies were not immediately known Thursday evening.

While being a police officer has statistically gotten safer in recent decades, seemingly ordinary interactions have still proven deadly in some cases. During the first half of this year, 31 police officers were shot and killed, most of them during the daily work of attempting arrests, responding to domestic disturbances or serving arrest warrants, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Twenty seven officers were killed in traffic-related incidents, the fund reported.

Rodney Welch in Florence, S.C., and Julie Tate and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report, which has been updated.