The man accused of fatally shooting a rookie Kentucky State Police trooper Sunday night has been shot and killed, according to authorities.
Kentucky State Police Sgt. Michael Webb told The Washington Post that Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks, 25 — who was armed — was captured around 7 a.m. Monday, about eight hours after he allegedly shot and killed Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder during a car chase in western Kentucky.
Troopers gave Johnson-Shanks commands to drop his weapon. When he refused and aimed his weapon at them, Webb said, one of the troopers — later identified as a member of the State Police Special Response Team — “engaged” Johnson-Shanks and shot him.
Johnson-Shanks was transported to a nearby medical facility, where he died of his wounds, Webb said.
Ponder, the 31-year-old trooper, died hours earlier after a traffic stop, which turned into a police chase. He was at least the 25th on-duty police officer to be killed by gunfire in 2015.
“This is a very, very difficult time for our agency,” Webb said. “This is a felonious murder, and our hearts go out to the trooper’s family.”
Police said Ponder stopped a vehicle at about 10:20 p.m. on Interstate 24 near the 58-mile marker in Lyon County in western Kentucky. In addition to Johnson-Shanks, two women and two children were also in the car.
Ponder discovered that Johnson-Shanks’s license was suspended, and learned that the two female passengers didn’t have licenses. He then tried to find the group a hotel room, so someone else could come and drive them.
“From time to time, our troopers do things like that,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Jay Thomas told reporters Monday afternoon.
But Johnson-Shanks fled the scene in the vehicle and Ponder pursued him, state police said.
At the 49-mile marker, Johnson-Shanks stepped on the brakes, causing Ponder’s patrol car to rear-end the suspect’s vehicle, police said.
Police said Johnson-Shanks then leaned out the driver’s side window and opened fire, hitting the cruiser’s hood and windshield and striking Ponder. Johnson-Shanks fled on foot; the woman and two children were taken into custody.
Ponder was transported to Caldwell Medical Center in Princeton, Ky., where he died.
After a lengthy manhunt, Johnson-Shanks, from Florissant, Mo., was found early Monday morning in a wooded area not far from the scene of the shooting. When he refused to obey troopers’ verbal commands to lower his gun, police said, he was shot.
“We’re all just holding it together the best we can and continue to do our jobs,” Thomas told reporters at a morning news conference. “It’s tough on us, and it’s tough on our families.”
“We face dangers every day we put our uniform on and go out to protect the public,” he added. “We know the risks … and we accept those risks.”
Early Monday morning, a woman named Kelly Ponder posted on the state police’s Facebook page: “My brother was the best man in the world and did not deserve what happened to him.”
“Please pray for us, this was an enormous loss. #Heartbroken,” she added.
She later posted on her personal page: “My heart has never ached so bad.”
In a statement, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said he was “deeply saddened” by Ponder’s death. Ponder, a U.S. Navy veteran from Rineyville, Ky., graduated from the Kentucky State Police training academy earlier this year and was assigned to cover Trigg County. He has been described by police as a “new and eager” trooper who “absolutely loved his job.”
“Senseless acts like this are a tragic reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every day, just by putting on their uniform and doing their job,” Beshear said in his statement. “That he was killed in the line of duty makes his death memorable, but we must never forget the most significant part of Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder’s story — how he lived, his selfless service to others, and his willingness to give his life for that commitment.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it a “sad day for the Commonwealth and for our law enforcement community.”
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit organization that tracks line-of-duty police fatalities, Ponder was the 25th on-duty officer shot and killed in the United States this year.
On Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) argued President Obama is not doing enough to protect police in the wake of recent officer killings across the country.
“He has been silent on this, and that’s an outrage,” Walker, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
Two weeks ago, Obama called the wife of a Texas sheriff’s deputy who was fatally shot to offer his condolences and condemn violence against police officers.
In a White House statement, Obama said he promised Kathleen Goforth, the deputy’s widow, “that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety. Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable — an affront to civilized society.”
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R), whose district includes Lyon County, said Ponder was “callously murdered while carrying out his duties to serve and protect” the local community.
“Our nation must stand united,” he said, “with the men and women of law enforcement who risk their lives every day to ensure we are able to live in a safe and peaceful society.”
One of the passengers in the vehicle that Ponder stopped, 18-year-old Ambrea R.J. Shanks, was later charged with first-degree hindering prosecution or apprehension. She was identified as a niece of Johnson-Shanks.
An autopsy was preformed Monday on Ponder, though results were pending, Thomas said. Johnson-Shanks’s autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.
“We mourn the loss of one of our finest,” Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White said. “Keep his family and his law enforcement family in your prayers. And thankfully, the shooter of this fine young officer is dead.”
This post has been updated.