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‘Ultimate act of cowardice’: Three officers in 3 cities targeted and shot, one fatally

A manhunt is underway in Texas for a gunman who shot and killed a San Antonio police detective sitting in a squad car during a routine traffic stop, authorities said. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus says the suspect should be considered "extremely dangerous." (Video: Reuters)

Three police officers in three different states were shot in apparently unprovoked attacks in a 12-hour period Sunday, attacks described as “targeted” and “ambush”-style by officials.

The first and only fatal shooting took place just before noon in San Antonio, directly outside the police station, as a 20-year veteran of the police department issued a traffic ticket from inside his patrol car. The assailant, seemingly unconnected to the original motorist, shot the officer twice in the head before fleeing in a black car. No suspect is in custody.

The second shooting was reported at about 7:30 Sunday evening in St. Louis. A 46-year-old officer was sitting in traffic in his patrol car when another car pulled up alongside him. Someone inside shot the officer twice in the face then fled. The 19-year-old suspect was later shot and killed by police when authorities say he fired at officers searching for him. The officer who was shot in the face is expected to survive.

At 8 p.m., the third ambush-style shooting shocked the small coastal Florida town of Sanibel, where for the first time in the city’s history an officer was shot in the line of duty. Like the attack in San Antonio, the Florida officer was sitting in his car after a “routine traffic stop” when, according to the News-Press, a “drive-by shooter” opened fire. The injured officer was treated and released from a hospital, officials said, and the suspect was arrested after a shootout with police.

Sunday’s targeted shootings are the most recent in a string of similar attacks that have made headlines this year, including the ambush-style killing of five Dallas police officers in July. Since then, at least a dozen officers have been shot in what officials have called unprovoked attacks.

At least five other officers have been targeted and shot this month: two fatally in Iowa; one fatally and another non-fatally in Pennsylvania; and one fatally in California.

At a news conference in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon, Mayor Ivy Taylor said the shooting there was “shocking and sobering,” and asked the community to remain “calm and prayerful” as authorities continued their search for the gunman.

Officer fatally shot outside San Antonio police station

Police Chief William McManus described the suspect as a dark-complected, slim male in his 20s or 30s. Witnesses described the man as dressed in gray pants and a gray shirt, and surveillance photos show him leaving the scene in a black sedan with chrome rims and tinted windows.

“We consider this person extremely dangerous and a clear threat to law enforcement officers and the public,” McManus said.

Later, police published a photo seeking help in identifying a man “in connection” with the shooting, describing him as a “black male, 20-30 years old, 5’7-6′, tall, slim build with a goatee.” It was not clear if the two descriptions were of the same person.

Until the suspect is caught, the police chief said that all officers have been ordered to only conduct traffic stops if they have “cover” from another officer.

While most people spend this week celebrating Thanksgiving with family, McManus said his department “will be burying one of its own because of an ultimate act of cowardice by a suspect who will be caught and brought to justice.”

The slain officer was identified by the chief as Detective Benjamin Marconi, a 50-year-old father and grandfather. He had been with the force for 20 years and was a sex crimes detective who “excelled at his work” at the time of his death, a former colleague told NBC News.

“He was a great father, he was a great officer,” retired detective Roy Naylor told NBC News.

Marconi conducted a traffic stop in front of police headquarters at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday, the chief said. While he was sitting inside the patrol car, another vehicle — the black sedan with chrome rims — pulled up behind the officer. The suspect got out of the car, walked up to Marconi’s driver side window and fired one shot. It struck Marconi in the head.

The suspect then “reached in through the open window and fired a second shot,” the chief said, hitting Marconi in the head again.

The gunman walked back to the vehicle and drove away.

Marconi was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

San Antonio police released photos of the suspect’s vehicle and surveillance footage of people who may have witnessed the shooting. Authorities continued their search early Monday morning.

Ambush killings of police officers has hit a 10-year high

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the slaying a “horrific act of violence” and added that “attacks against law enforcement officers will not be tolerated in Texas.”

McManus, the police chief, compared the shooting to the targeted attacks on police officers this year, reported NBC News.

“It’s happened here,” he said. “It’s everyone’s worst nightmare.”

The motive remains unclear, the chief said, but the department is investigating all leads, including a possible connection to an officer-involved shooting that happened elsewhere in the city earlier Sunday.

A police officer was shot and injured through his patrol car window in St. Louis on Nov. 20. The suspect fled the scene, but was later shot and killed. (Video: Twitter/St. Louis Police via Storyful)

The motive for the “ambush” shooting in St. Louis was more clear.

After a five-hour manhunt Sunday night, the suspect, a 19-year-old male, was shot and killed by police after he opened fire on them, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said at a news conference.

Dotson told reporters the suspect was known to police before Sunday and was wanted for a host of crimes that had been committed in the city and county, including several robberies. He might also be connected to a carjacking and homicide, the chief said.

Authorities believe that is why he fired on the officer Sunday night: He was afraid he’d be recognized.

The chief did not release the name of the injured officer but said he is a 46-year-old father of three and has been on the force for nearly 20 years. He was in critical but stable condition at a hospital.

“Fortunately for the blessing of God the officer’s going to survive,” Dotson said.

This statistic about gun violence in America seems hard to believe, but is true

The officer was stalled in traffic when the suspect pulled up alongside him. He “saw the muzzle flashes and felt the glass breaking in his window as the shots came through and struck him in the head,” according to the chief. He heard at least two gunshots and was aware enough to see that the suspect’s car was silver. The officer radioed for help, and when authorities arrived they found him still sitting in the driver’s seat, strapped in his seat belt, gun holstered.

“He didn’t have time to react to this threat,” Dotson said.A source told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the officer thought the man in the car was going to ask him a question.

“This officer was not involved in a traffic stop. This officer was not trying to pull this car over,” Dotson said. “This officer was driving down the road and was ambushed.”

At the news conference, Mayor Francis Slay said the attack was unprovoked and a reminder of “how dangerous it is to be a police officer.” He called the shooting “traumatic” and said the officer “didn’t deserve this.” “He was just doing his job,” Slay said. “He was targeted because he was a police officer.”

Local and federal authorities spent the evening searching by air and land for the 19-year-old suspect. They were mandated to travel with at least one other officer for safety. Officials found the suspect’s car abandoned in a parking garage downtown and learned that he had been picked up by a female friend. The two returned to the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred, Dotson said.

There, officers were “scouring” the area, and when a police car located the suspect and his friend and tried to pull their car over, the female driver slowed down and the suspect fled, the chief said. He ran down an alley and into the view of another police car, this one unmarked. The suspect fired at the car, Dotson said, shattering the windshield. The officers inside were uninjured.

More police arrived and began to “converge,” according to the chief. There was more gunfire, and the suspect was shot and killed. A pistol with an extended magazine was recovered from the suspect. Police also found an additional magazine with more bullets. An investigation into how many shots were fired at the suspect is ongoing, and it was unknown early Monday morning if the female driver would face charges.

While addressing reporters, Dotson mentioned the fatal San Antonio police shooting earlier in the day and spoke of the climate facing American officers.

“When officers are driving down the street and are ambushed, it makes us all take pause,” he said.

The fatal shooting in San Antonio was the 58th death of an officer by gunfire this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Those sites have calculated that that number is between a 61 and 71 percent increase from gunfire-related deaths in 2015.

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