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Five Dallas police officers were killed by a lone attacker, authorities say

Here's what you need to know about the gunman who killed five police officers at a Dallas protest sparked by police shootings of black men. (Video: Victoria Walker, Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

DALLAS — Following the death of the five police officers who were killed in a shooting Thursday, President Obama plans to cut his trip to Europe short by one day, returning from Spain on Sunday night so he can travel to Dallas early next week.

“Later in the week, at the White House, the President will continue the work to bring people together to support our police officers and communities, and find common ground by discussing policy ideas for addressing the persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” the White House said in a statement.

Along with the five officers who died, seven others were wounded Thursday night when sniper fire from what turned out to be a lone gunman turned a peaceful protest over recent police shootings into a scene of chaos and terror.

The gunfire was followed by a standoff that lasted for hours when the attacker told authorities “he was upset about the recent police shootings” and “said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown. The gunman was killed when police detonated a bomb-equipped robot.

After the bloodshed — the deadliest single day for law enforcement officers since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — authorities said they were investigating the shooting and would need several days to continue exploring the crime scene downtown. Officials said two civilians were also injured in the attack.

“We are heartbroken,” Brown said during a news conference Friday. “There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city.”

While police had said Thursday they believed “two snipers” opened fire on officers “from elevated positions,” authorities said Friday that they determined only one person shot at police.

“At this time, there appears to have been one gunman with no known links to or inspiration from any international terrorist organization,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday afternoon.

What we know about the attack on police in Dallas

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The eruption of violence at around 9 p.m. occurred during a calm protest over recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, with similar demonstrations occurring in cities across the country. As a barrage of gunfire ripped through the air, demonstrators and police officers alike scrambled.

The violence did not end in Dallas. Officers were also shot Friday in Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. In Georgia, police said a man called 9-1-1 and then shot at the responding officer, wounding him, the Associated Press reported. And a police officer was in critical condition in St. Louis after being shot during a traffic stop Friday morning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Police said Friday that Micah Xavier Johnson, a black 25-year-old believed to be from the Dallas area, was the attacker. Dallas Mayor S. Mike Rawlings told the Associated Press Johnson used an AR-15 assault weapon in the ambush.

Johnson, who had no criminal history, deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army from November 2013 through July 2014 and was in the Army Reserve from 2009 until last year. Army records show that Johnson, whose home was listed as Mesquite, Tex., had served with an engineering brigade before he was sent to Afghanistan. He did not have a combat job and was listed as a carpentry and masonry specialist.

The Dallas Police Department said Friday that during a search of Johnson’s home, they found “bomb making materials, ballistic vests, rifles, ammunition, and a personal journal of combat tactics.” Authorities said they were still investigating the journal’s contents.

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Rawlings said Friday that authorities believe that Johnson “was the lone shooter in this incident.” Police had said on Thursday night that “two snipers” opened fire “from elevated positions,” but a day later, he said that investigators determined only Johnson attacked police.

Rawlings attributed the uncertainty over the number of attackers to the chaos in downtown Dallas after the shooting began.

“By piecing together what was happening at the time after we talked to and interviewed all the officers, there was confusion with everyone running around,” Rawlings said at a briefing Friday afternoon.

About 20 civilians with ammo gear and rifles over their shoulders began to run away when the shooting began, Rawlings said. Once authorities began to catch and interview them, he said they realized one shooter had fired from multiple angles. Texas law allows people to openly carry long firearms.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown lost his son, former partner and brother to violence

Rawlings said Johnson “was a mobile shooter that had written manifestos on how to shoot and move, shoot and move, and he did that.”

“He did his damage, but we did our damage to him as well,” Rawlings said. “And we believe now that the city is safe and that the suspect is dead and we can move on to healing.”

Johnson’s Facebook page, confirmed by a federal law enforcement official, shows that Johnson made his primary picture an image of himself raising a single fist in the air, a symbol associated with the Black Power movement of the 1960s. He also posted a similar image of a fist with the text, “Black Power.”

The profile also contains a picture of him and Richard Griffin, of the rap group Public Enemy — a point police noted in a statement they released Friday about the case. “The suspect’s Facebook account included the following names and information: Fahed Hassen, Richard GRIFFIN aka Professor Griff, GRIFFIN embraces a radical form of Afrocentrism, and GRIFFIN wrote a book A Warriors Tapestry,” police wrote. They also said others had told them Johnson was a “loner.”

What we know about the suspected shooter in Dallas

Gov. Greg Abbott (R), speaking Friday at the same news conference with Rawlings, said it was important to make sure “there are no other potential co-conspirators with this particular assailant.” He said authorities were working to determine whether anyone may have known what the gunman was going to do or assisted him.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Friday that federal agencies including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were working with local law enforcement to help investigate the attack.

“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreak and loss,” Lynch said. Noting that the attack in Dallas happened during a protest sparked by police shootings, she added: “After the events of this week, Americans across our country are feeling a sense of helplessness, uncertainty and fear … but the answer must not be violence.”

The slain police included four Dallas police officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer. While police said they were killed by “snipers” perched atop “elevated positions” and initially said there were two snipers, it was unclear Friday how many attackers were involved.

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For hours after the assault, police were locked in a standoff with Johnson after he was cornered on the second floor of a building downtown. Police exchanged gunfire with him and negotiated with him, but those discussions broke down, Brown said.

In those conversations, Brown said Johnson told police that “he was upset about Black Lives Matter” and angered by the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that dominated national news this week after officers in both places fatally shot black men. Johnson also said he was not involved with any groups and acted alone, Brown said.

During the standoff, Johnson also told authorities that “the end is coming” and spoke about bombs being placed downtown, though no explosives had been found by Friday.

Dallas police Chief David Brown lost his son, former partner and brother to violence

Ultimately, Brown said police had no other option but to place an explosive device on their bomb robot and send it to the suspect, who was killed when the bomb detonated. Rawlings said the robot was the same kind typically used to detonate and defuse bombs, and in this case was used to place C-4 explosives and detonate them.

During remarks at a prayer vigil on Friday afternoon, Brown said that Johnson’s attack “was a well-planned, well-thought-out evil tragedy.” Outside the Dallas police headquarters, a steady stream of people came to pay their respects, draping flowers and toys across police cars on the forecourt. Gathered in the shade, a band of police officers watched quietly. Several had left their homes late at night to do what they could.

“I pulled on my uniform and came to protect my brothers,” said one officer, asking not to be named. “I haven’t slept, I can’t. I knew every one of the guys who died.”

Abbott, speaking Friday, emphasized his support for the department.

“For every man and women of the Dallas Police Department, as well as any law enforcement officer in the state of Texas, I want you to know you have the respect of a grateful state and you have a governor who has your back,” he said.

Names of the slain officers began to emerge Friday, as did details about their lives. They included Brent Thompson, a 43-year-old transit police officerPatrick Zamarripa, a 32-year-old police officer who served three tours in Iraq with the U.S. military; Michael Krol, a 40-year-old officer who joined the Dallas police in 2008; Lorne Ahrens, a former semi-pro football player and 14-year veteran of the Dallas police; and Michael Smith, a father of two who liked to give stickers to the children at his church.

The Dallas transit agency identified three of its officers who were injured but are expected to survive.

“As you can imagine, our hearts are broken,” the agency said in a statement. “We are grateful to report the three other DART police officers shot during the protest are expected to recover from their injuries.”

These three officers were named as Omar Cannon, 44; Misty McBride, 32; and Jesus Retana, 39. Tela Strickland, McBride’s 14-year-old cousin, reacted with “shock” to news that her relative was shot in the stomach and shoulder.

“I am so tired of seeing shootings in the news,” she told The Post. “When you see your own family in the news, it’s heartbreaking.”

Even as people were still trying to hide or shelter in place after the gunfire, videos began to circulate on social media showing some of the bloodshed.

One video showed a person with an assault-style rifle shoot a police officer in the back at point-blank range. In the footage, a gunman is seen running up behind an officer moving behind a pillar and firing at his back. The officer is seen falling to the ground. It is unclear if the officer survived.

In this video, an individual with an assault-style rifle shot a police officer at point-blank range. (Editors note: This video contains graphic content) (Video: Randy Biart)

After the gunfire, three people were taken into custody, police said. Two people were seen climbing into a black Mercedes with a camouflage bag before speeding off, police said, and they were apprehended in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Another person, a woman, was taken into custody near a garage where the attacker who exchanged gunfire with police wound up.

On Friday morning, Brown said he would not go into any detail on other suspects until authorities get further into their investigation.

“We’re not expanding on who and how many,” he said. “We’re going to keep these suspects guessing.”

Killings and racial tensions commingle with divided and divisive politics

By Friday afternoon, police had not said whether any of these people remained in custody. A spokeswoman for the Dallas police did not respond to a request for comment.

At one point, Brown said he believed that as many as four suspects were “working together with rifles triangulated at elevated positions at different points in the downtown area” where the march was taking place.

“Suspects like this just have to be right once … to snipe at officers from elevated position and ambush them from secret positions,” Brown said Friday. He added that despite the danger, officers “with no chance to protect themselves … put themselves in harm’s way to make sure citizens can get to a safe place.”

“All I know is this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” he said.

Police nationwide order officers to ride in pairs after Dallas police ambush

On Friday, Rawlings, the mayor, called for the country to honestly confront racial discrimination.

“We will not shy away from the very real fact that we as city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues,” he said during a prayer vigil.

The center of downtown Dallas remained a crime scene Friday, and police said parts of it would be closed off until Wednesday.

Streets are blocked by police and state troopers, with yellow crime scene tape and barricades and a helicopter droning overhead as the news media set up operations along the perimeter. The center of gravity here is an almost cubical, 14-story red-brick garage, part of the Bank of America complex. Shattered glass remains sprayed across the bank’s plaza.

“You’re in a crime scene, sir!” a police officer shouted at a reporter who ventured too close. One man passed out copies of the Ten Commandments to the law enforcement officers guarding the crime scene. A woman held an “All Lives Matter” placard.

There was not much of an audience for anyone with a protest, other than the TV crews waiting for the evening stand-ups. “It’s crazy,” said hotel worker Jason Miller, 40. “It’s a safe town. A lot of that stuff stays out of Dallas. You could count on Dallas being a place this wouldn’t occur.”

Mershia Jackson, 52, who came downtown to pick up a prescription, said the same thing: “I just thought nothing like this would happen here.”

Paul Dowdy, 72, a chaplain, came downtown for an afternoon prayer service where city leaders spoke.

“I think prayer is a number one priority,” Dowdy said. “Slaughtering innocent police officers because of a little pigmentation, a little or a lot, is not the answer. It adds fuel to the fire of hate.”

After the shooting in Dallas, police officers and agencies across the country offered their condolences and took steps to protect their officers.

Police chiefs in Washington, Los Angeles County, Boston, Nassau County and St. Louis instructed their patrol officers to pair up, as did officials in Las Vegas, where two officers were gunned down in an ambush while eating lunch in 2014, and New York, where two officers were killed in another ambush that same year.

Terry Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., said Friday that officers nationwide “really are going to have to have vigilance. Any traffic stop, at any time, can be deadly. I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if this means more violence perpetrated toward law enforcement as a result of this.”

Officials in Tennessee said Friday that they believed a man who opened fire on a parkway there before exchanging gunshots with police may have been prompted by concerns over encounters involving police and black Americans.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Lakeem Keon Scott, 37, the suspected shooter in that case, had killed one woman driving in her car, wounded two other people and shot a Bristol, Tenn., police officer in the leg before officers shot and wounded him.

“Preliminarily, the investigation reveals Scott may have targeted individuals and officers after being troubled by recent incidents involving African-Americans and law enforcement officers in other parts of the country,” the agency said in a statement. They added that there was no current safety threat to the area and that the investigation suggested that Scott had worked alone.

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The mass shooting in Dallas comes amid intense scrutiny of police officers and how they use deadly force, an issue that returned to prominence in the news this week after videos circulated of a fatal shooting in Baton Rouge and the aftermath of another in Minnesota. On Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge; less than 48 hours later, Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer in Minnesota.

Obama, who after arriving in Warsaw discussed how troubling the events in Minnesota and Louisiana were, spoke about the Dallas attack and said  there was “no possible justification” for the shooting in the city.

“I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events,” Obama said.

He called on Americans to “profess our profound gratitude to the men and women in blue” and to remember the victims in particular.

“Today, our focus is on the victims and their families,” Obama said. “They are heartbroken, and the entire city of Dallas is grieving. Police across America, which is a tight-knit family, feels this loss to their core.”

Officials across the country expressed their grief for those killed in Dallas.

“I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families [and] all who serve with them,” Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, wrote in a message on Twitter. Her likely Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, called the shooting “a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe.”

In Dallas, around 200 people gathered Friday evening for a candlelight vigil at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virginia of Guadalupe, which sits about a mile where the ambush took place.

Among them Katie Troutman, 35, who grew up in Southern California but has lived in Dallas for six years.

“I love this city. I wasn’t born here but I’ve made this my forever home. There is such an energy to this city where people are always reaching out to each other,” Troutman said. “It’s horrible what happened, but this is the way we come together and show love and support for one another to end that.”

Amidst protests, police heroics

Stories of heroism emerged along with tales of horror. Several people said officers helped save them, including one man who said an officer pushed him out of the way as shooting began. Bystanders captured footage of cops dragging fallen comrades out of the line of fire. Cameras also captured police officers choking back tears for their fallen colleagues. One officer appeared to brace himself against his SUV as grief overcame him.

“So many stories of great courage,” Brown said.

Rawlings said it was “a heartbreaking morning” and called for unity.

“We as a city, we as a country, must come together and lock arms and heal the wounds we all feel,” he said.

The scene in Dallas where 12 police officers were shot, 5 killed during demonstrations

Dallas Police respond after shots were fired at a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Dallas protestors rallied in the aftermath of the killing of Alton Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile, who was killed by police less than 48 hours later in Minnesota. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

The acts of heroism during a deadly night in Dallas

As in other cities across the country, protesters gathered in downtown Dallas just before 7 p.m. for a march from Belo Garden Park to the Old Red Courthouse.

For nearly two hours, hundreds of demonstrators had marched through Dallas, at one point passing near a memorial plaza close to the site of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in the city.

Activists decried the shooting, saying that the attack was unrelated to them and their campaigns against deadly force. Lynch, speaking in Washington on Friday, said she was “heartbroken” by the loss and urged peaceful protesters not to “be discouraged by those who use your lawful actions as cover for their heinous violence.”

Dallas witness: ‘Everybody seemed happy. And then, all of a sudden — the shots rang out.’

Stanley Brown, 19, was near El Centro, a community college in downtown, when the shooting began.

“You could hear the bullets whizzing by our car and hitting the buildings. A bullet missed our car by six feet,” he said. “We pulled into a garage and got out of our car, and the bullets started hitting the walls of the garage.”

Brown ran around the corner of a building to take cover, only to see a gunman running up the street.

“He was ducking and dodging, and when police approached, he ducked into El Centro,” he said.

He saw a SWAT team rush the college building, enabling five people to escape.

“An officer looked back at us and yelled that it was a terrorist attack,” he said.

Tragedy’s terrible toll: Portraits of grief in Dallas

Lynn Mays said he was standing on Lamar Street when the shooting began.

“All of a sudden we started hearing gunshots out of nowhere,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “At first we couldn’t identify it because we weren’t expecting it, then we started hearing more, rapid fire. One police officer who was standing there pushed me out the way because it was coming our direction…. Next thing you know we heard ‘officer down.’”

Undercover and uniformed police officers started running around the corner and “froze,” Mays said. “Police officers started shooting in one direction, and whoever was shooting started shooting back.

“And that’s where the war began.”

Wan, Berman and Balingit reported from Washington. Tim Madigan and Louisa Loveluck in Dallas, Greg Jaffe in Warsaw and Michael E. Miller, Travis M. Andrews, Adam Goldman, Katie Mettler, Ben Guarino, Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins, Mary Hui, Tom Jackman, Peter Hermann, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Wesley Lowery and Elahe Izadi in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more: 

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The Post’s database of fatal police shootings

[This developing news story will be continually updated.]Save