Police in Charlotte had been searching for Jonathan Bennett since Thursday afternoon, when they say he killed his girlfriend in the presence of their 3-month-old daughter, then left the infant on a family member’s doorstep and fled.
The felon was on the loose, possibly in a Ford Expedition with New York plates, investigators told the public. They asked officers across the state to be on the lookout for him.
But that night, he found them first.
Police say the 23-year-old drove into the parking lot of the police department’s headquarters in uptown Charlotte and ambushed several officers involved in another, unrelated case.
Bennett fired several shots, police and witnesses said, and the officers returned fire — more than a dozen bullets flying during the exchange.
When the gunfire ended, Bennett was fatally wounded. One of the officers, a woman who had not been identified by Friday morning, was shot in the leg and taken to a hospital.
“He ambushed us. He shot at us,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters at a news conference overlooking the shooting scene. “That’s about all that we’re aware of at this time.”
Police radio traffic obtained by Charlotte ABC-affiliate WSOC described the chaotic moments: a shootout near Charlotte’s business and entertainment district, a man dying in a police parking lot and dozens of officers speeding from other divisions to an “officer down” call.
“There’s shots fired,” one officer said over the radio. “We’ve got glass broken north of the law enforcement center. We have an officer down. Officer down at the LEC.”
Later, another officer got on the radio and told uninvolved officers that they should stop hurrying to the scene: “Slow the traffic,” he said. “Slow the traffic. Nobody get hurt.”
Putney told reporters the injured officer’s wounds weren’t life-threatening.
The shootout was witnessed by a WSOC-TV news crew that was staked out at police headquarters to film a “perp walk” of officers escorting a suspect in another case to jail.
Officers had been searching for Bennett since around 2 p.m. Thursday following the city’s first homicide of 2018.
Someone called 911 saying gunshots had been fired at a home in southwest Charlotte, according to a police news release. Officers who responded to the home found an open front door, a 24-year-old woman dead of a gunshot wound and a small, uninjured child alone in the home.
They said they believed the killing was domestic in nature and were looking for Brittany White’s boyfriend: Bennett.
Adding to the urgency: Bennett and White had a child together, an infant named Journei — and she was missing.
Before they could issue an Amber Alert, the child was located. She had apparently been dropped off at a relative’s house by Bennett and was at her grandmother’s home, unharmed.
But there was no word on Bennett.
“The suspect, Jonathan Bennett, is still on the run and detectives are continuing to ask for the public’s assistance in locating him,” a police news release said. “Bennett should be considered armed and dangerous.”
He had a violent criminal past, according to the Charlotte Observer. Bennett had been jailed in Mecklenburg County at least three times since 2016, charged with assaulting a female, theft and communicating threats.
He had been previously found guilty of felony breaking and entering, speeding to elude arrest, possession of drug paraphernalia, second degree trespassing, assault and battery, resisting an officer, and larceny after breaking and entering.
Police were digging into his past and conducting several investigations: the homicide Bennett is accused of committing; his own death at the hands of officers; and a procedural investigation to make sure officers’ behavior during the shootout was by the book.
But in the aftermath of the bizarre and deadly series of events, police acknowledged they may never know the answer to the most obvious question: Why a man who had been eluding officers for half a day decided to suddenly attack them.
“I have no way of knowing,” Putney told reporters. “I wish I had a crystal ball.”