FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday, the St. Louis County Police Department confirmed.
Spokesman Brian Schellman says the officers were shot shortly after midnight Thursday.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at least three shots were fired from northwest of the police department and two officers were hit — one from the St. Louis County Police Department, a 41-year-old, was struck in the shoulder; the other, a 32year-old from the Webster Groves Police Department, was struck in the face.
Both were rushed in the hospital. “The are conscious,” Belmar said, adding “these are very serious gunshot injuries.”
Belmar says he did not know who shot the officers, but he believed they were targeted.
The shots were fired as protesters had gathered following the resignation of the city’s embattled Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Wednesday.
Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared a white former Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, of civil rights charges in the shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer. Wilson has since resigned.
“All of a sudden, I heard at least 4 or 5 shots rang out,” witness Markus Loehrer told CNN. “It took me at least 30 seconds of watching before I realized there was an officer down. We are not there to shoot cops, we don’t like violence. So we did what anybody would do — we ran away.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said that Bradley Rayford, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Ferguson since the unrest began there last summer, said he saw three or four muzzle flashes from the crest of Tiffin Hill, a residential neighborhood with large century-old homes.
“We could see the muzzle flash,” saidRayford, a witness who said he was a few feet from the shooting. “Someone was shooting towards the police department.”
The Post-Dispatch said Rayford was in front of the police line on South Florissant at the time. He said he couldn’t tell if the shots were being fired from a vehicle.
The newspaper said that at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday, about 25 officers ascended the hill and began scouring the front yard of a home for evidence.
Protesters had gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department Wednesday night to cheer the resignation of the city’s embattled Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
The crowd had been thinning out, ready to call it a night, when the shots rang out, tweeted Susan Weich, one of several Post-Dispatch reporters reporting from the scene.
The shots rang out as the protests appeared to be dwindling, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said. Some of the protesters fell to the ground and others ran.
Several members of the media, including a Post-Dispatch reporter and photographer, were near the officers who were hit.
The shots appeared to come from the direction of a block of homes on Tiffin Avenue that intersects West Florissant Avenue, the Post-Dispatch said. Witnesses reported two to four shots.
The shooting brought a much larger contingent of officers, many with high-powered rifles, to the scene, the newspaper said.