ELLENSBURG, Wash. – An official from Immigration Customs and Enforcement confirmed to Q13 News the suspect involved in the deadly Kittitas County officer-involved shooting was not in the United States legally.
That man, Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro, died after a shootout with law enforcement officers which killed Kittitas County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Thompson and injured Kittitas Police Officer Benito Chavez.
Flags across the Kittitas Valley are flying at half-staff, it’s hard to go about your day without noticing some kind of memorial. A large sheriff’s badge also hangs, showcasing black sash, near the county courthouse. Plus, other messages of support scatter the area.
“It’s like a nuclear bomb going off,” said Kevin Johnson from Ellensburg. “It just destroyed a part of our hearts and our lives.”
Johnson is a co-owner of D&M Motors and Towing, and while his shop doesn’t have a large sign, the message they’re sharing isn’t small.
“I don’t have a big sign out front but have at least a short thing I can portray on the front for how we feel for this situation,” he said. “It affects everybody deeply here.”
On one side, the marquee wishes Benito Chavez a quick recovery – and on the other, a message of support for Ryan Thompson who paid the ultimate price.
“We’ve had shattered hearts and devastated lives,” said Johnson.
Johnson says he’s worked side by side with Thompson as a tow truck driver, adding the deputy wasn’t just a colleague but also a friend.
“You couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with,” he said. “He’s phenomenal.”
The incident also impacts police officers across Washington state like Brian Johnston who works for the Monroe Police Department.
He’s also the president of Behind the Badge Foundation, an organization that helps coordinate a memorial for fallen officers.
He says both the Chavez and Thompson families will need ongoing support for years to come and his organization hopes to help fill the void where possible.
“I know that this is the most traumatic event they’ve ever been in, or probably ever will be in and it’s not something that will end any time soon,” he said.
Johnston says his foundation is working with the sheriff’s office and Thompson’s family to put together a memorial, but details are not yet available for public release.
Meanwhile the shooter, according to an ICE spokesperson, entered the United States from Mexico back in 2014 on a temporary worker visa that has since expired.