LAKEWOOD - A Lakewood police officer who saw three of his colleagues shot dead Sunday tried to stop the fleeing gunman and might have shot him before being killed at a Parkland coffee shop, authorities said.
A massive manhunt was under way at press time for the killer, and Pierce County sheriff’s deputies identified a man with an extensive criminal record – including assault on a police officer – as a “person of interest” in the case.
That man – 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons – remained at large late Sunday.
Lakewood police officials identified their dead as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and officers Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42. All had at least eight years of experience and were the parents of children.
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The gunman left behind a scene of carnage at the shop about two blocks outside the Lakewood city limits and a community reeling to make sense of an explosion of violence against law enforcement that may be unprecedented in state history.
“It is Lakewood’s saddest day,” City Councilman Walter Neary said.
The officers’ bodies were removed from the crime scene about 10 hours after the shooting and were escorted to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office by fellow officers in marked police vehicles.
Onlookers clapped and shouted “thank you” as the procession passed. Several saluted.
Seven hundred people gathered Sunday evening at Champions Centre on Tacoma’s East Side for a vigil. There were several uniformed police officers, including members of Tacoma police and the Washington State Patrol, in attendance.
People went up to the officers to offer thanks for their service.
The Lakewood officers were attacked about 8:15 a.m. as they gathered at the Forza Coffee Co. shop at 11401 S. Steele St. to prepare for their patrol shift.
The officers all were in uniform and wearing bulletproof vests.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said the four were attacked “without warning” in what appeared to be “an execution.”
Two of the officers were shot dead while they sat at a table, Troyer said.
Another was fatally wounded after jumping up from the table. The fourth managed to fight with the attacker – who was armed with a handgun – and made it to the shop’s front door where he got off at least one shot himself before being killed, Troyer said.
“The officer put up a good fight,” he said.
That officer’s actions may have left injuries on the gunman that mark him as the killer, Troyer added.
Authorities believe that, if hit, the gunman may travel some distance to seek medical attention for his wounds and likely will concoct a story about how he was hurt, Troyer said.
“If that happens, we want to hear about it,” he said.
Sheriff Paul Pastor addressed the news media assembled near the scene about 12:20 p.m.
“This is an example of the danger police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers face every day,” he said. The gunman not only “harmed us, he harmed the good we can do in the community.”
Lakewood city leaders called the event horrific and said they would do what they could to take care of the officers’ families.
“The slain officers were all part of Lakewood’s initial Police Department start-up five years ago,” Mayor Doug Richardson and City Manager Andrew Neiditz said in a statement posted on the city’s Web site.
“All transferred to Lakewood as commissioned law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions. Their dedication and selfless service contributed immensely toward the successful creation of the Lakewood Police Department.”
The gunman gave no indication he intended violence when he walked into the shop, police and witnesses reported.
He stood in line at the shop’s counter as if to place an order before pulling out a gun and opening fire on the officers, Troyer said. The killer fled on foot.
Humberto Navarrete was standing in a nearby AM/PM store buying cigarettes when two baristas from Forza came inside, crying and shaking. He said he gave the young women his cell phone so they could call 911 and their families.
The baristas reported that the gunman came in and walked past where the four officers were working at a table, Navarrete said.
One of the baristas asked the man if he wanted anything. He did not reply but lifted his jacket – where a gun was hidden – and turned toward the officers.
The two baristas told Navarrete that they then ran out of the store, got into their car and drove to the convenience store.
Scores of law enforcement officers aided by a helicopter and dogs descended on the scene soon after, launching a search for the gunman that stretched into the night. Detectives also were reviewing surveillance footage from inside the coffee shop and nearby businesses for clues.
There were multiple reports Sunday of law enforcement officers stopping men matching the gunman’s description throughout Pierce County. Heavily armed officers searched multiple sites around the area, including Evergreen Self Storage at 2211 112th St. S.
The dead officers were the first Lakewood police killed in the line of duty since the department was formed in 2004.
There had been no threats made against the officers, but investigators believe the gunman sought them out.
“This was a targeted attack,” Troyer said.
Detectives had no evidence of a motive late Sunday.
Troyer said there is no apparent link between the Parkland shootings and the Oct. 31 slaying of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton. Brenton was gunned down as he and a colleague sat in a patrol car in Seattle.
Police have arrested a man in connection with that case.
King County prosecutors have alleged that Christopher Monfort waged a “one-man war” against law enforcement starting with the firebombing of four Seattle police vehicles in the days before Brenton’s death.
They have charged Monfort, who they believe acted alone, with aggravated first-degree murder, arson and attempted murder for shooting Brenton’s partner.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is leading the Parkland investigation because the crime scene is in unincorporated Pierce County, not far from both the Tacoma and Lakewood city limits.
The coffee shop is near an industrial park area and a Coca-Cola bottling plant. It borders McChord Air Force Base. It is a popular place for officers from Tacoma, Lakewood and Pierce County to gather and exchange information, Troyer said.
The shop has seating for 15 to 20 people in a collection of tables and chairs and a few leather seats. When a customer enters, the barista bar is against the back and right walls of the store.
Rebecca Radcliffe, manager of the Subway Shop on the corner of 112th and Steele streets, said the four officers were regulars at the coffee shop and would talk to her about Lakewood and the apartment complex where she lived.
“It’s still a little scary to know that people out there are like this,” she said.
County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist was at the crime scene much of Sunday and said he’s following the developments.
“Our hearts go out to the families,” he said. “One of our main concerns right now is we still have some crazy cold-blooded killer or killers on the loose.”
Jerry Arnold, 45, was in bed at his home nearby when he was awakened by sirens. He’s lived there seven years and said he had never seen anything close to Sunday’s scene. It left him shaken.
“I hope they get them. I can’t sleep until they do,” Arnold said. “Those guys could be hiding in my backyard.”
News Tribune staff writers Stacey Mulick, Mike Archbold, Brian Everstine, Scott Fontaine and Sean Robinson contributed to this report.