Investigators on Thursday hunted for suspects in the shootings of two police officers overnight in Ferguson, Missouri. The officers, including one who police said took a bullet to the face, were released from the hospital.
Several people were taken in for questioning but they were later released and no arrests have been made, Sgt. Brian Schellman, a spokesman for St. Louis County police, said. A SWAT team converged on a house in Ferguson at one point during the manhunt, he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that the shootings were carried out by "a damn punk who was trying to sow discord in an area that is trying to get its act together." He called it an ambush and said that it had turned his stomach.
"My brother is a retired law enforcement officer, and he always tells me that cops have a right to come home at night," Holder said. "That’s exactly right. These are people who protect us, keep us safe, and they have the right to come home at night."
The officers were released from the hospital before 9 a.m., less than nine hours after they were shot outside Ferguson police headquarters. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar of the county police said that both were lucky to be alive.
"We could have buried two police officers next week over this," he told reporters.
The shootings came toward the end of a rally that followed the resignation of the Ferguson police chief. The two officers who were shot were standing together in what Belmar described as a line of 20 to 25 officers. He said that three or four shots had been fired from about 125 yards.
"This is really an ambush, is what it is," Belmar said.
An officer from the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, 32 and a seven-year veteran, was shot in the face. The bullet entered under his right eye and lodged behind his ear, Belmar said.
The other officer, from the county police force, was shot in the shoulder, and the bullet came out his back, Belmar said. That officer is 41 years old and a 14-year veteran. Police did not immediately name either officer.
President Barack Obama denounced violence against police.
Gov. Jay Nixon encouraged anyone with information to come forward, and offered his prayers to “these brave officers and their families.”
A Justice Department report last week alleged widespread racial bias in law enforcement in Ferguson. The report was commissioned after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in August.
Brown’s parents released a statement on Thursday condemning the shootings of the officers.
Belmar said that police were taking care to respect the First Amendment rights of protesters. But he wondered what might have happened if the shooter or shooters had been much closer, "a threat right there in front of you that can be engaged."
"This is beginning at times to be very difficult for any law enforcement agency anywhere to really wrap their arms around," he said.
- Two Officers Shot During Protest Near Ferguson Police Department