updated 6/17/2004 6:46:24 PM ET 2004-06-17T22:46:24

Three police officers were shot to death at a Birmingham house Thursday, and a suspect and four other people were taken into custody, authorities said.

Dozens of officers — some wearing body armor and carrying shotguns and rifles — swarmed around the house and went door-to-door in the neighborhood of modest, older homes, apparently searching for a suspect in the early afternoon shooting.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale said Nathaniel Lauell Woods, 27, and four others were in police custody. Police said Woods was a suspect and earlier had released copies of his mug shot, but they did not say why they took the other people into custody.

It was not known if any charges had been filed.

Details of the slayings were not immediately available, but they apparently occurred outside the house, which had been divided into apartments.

One of two police cars hauled away from the scene appeared to have a window shot out, and there was glass on the street where the car had been parked.

Police appeared to be looking for evidence in a grassy field next to the house, walking the property shoulder-to-shoulder and placing markers on the ground at several places.

The deaths marked the third time in just over a year that two or more police officers have been gunned down in Alabama.

Two police officers and a dispatcher were shot to death at the police station in Fayette on June 7, 2003. On Jan. 2, two Athens policemen were shot in an ambush after they were called to a home. A suspect has been charged with murder in each case, and each has pleaded innocent by reason of mental disease or defect.

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