Five police officers were fatally shot, and nine people – including seven police officers – were wounded, during a protest over fatal police shootings of black men in other states, in Dallas on Thursday evening. It was the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Thursday’s bloodshed, which unfolded just a few blocks from where President John F. Kennedy was slain in 1963, also evoked the trauma of the nation’s tumultuous civil-rights era.
Police Chief David Brown blamed “snipers,” but it was unclear how many shooters were involved. Authorities initially said three suspects were in custody and a fourth dead.
Police were not sure they had located all possible suspects, but by Friday attention was focusing on a man who was killed by law enforcement with a robot-delivered bomb in a parking garage where he had exchanged fire with officers.
Authorities resorted to the bomb after hours of negotiations failed, Brown said.
Before dying, the police chief said, the suspect declared to officers that he was upset about recent shootings and wanted to kill whites, “especially white officers.”
The suspect also said he was not affiliated with any groups and stated that he acted alone, Brown added.
None of the suspects was officially identified, and the police chief said he would not disclose any details about them until authorities were sure everyone involved was in custody.
Late Friday morning, the suspect was identified as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, who had served in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Peter W. Singer of the New America Foundation, who is an expert in warfare, including robotics, said that this is the first instance he is aware of in which a robot was used lethally by police.
Singer said in an email Friday that when he was researching a 2009 book, a U.S. soldier told him that troops in Iraq sometimes used MARCbot surveillance robots against insurgents.
The shootings Thursday evening began at about 8:45 p.m., while hundreds of people were gathered at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Brown said that the snipers fired “ambush-style” on the officers, and that it appeared they “planned to injure and kill as many officers as they could.”
Video from the scene showed protesters marching along a downtown street about half a mile from City Hall when shots erupted and the crowd scattered, seeking cover. Officers crouched beside vehicles, armored SWAT team vehicles arrived and a helicopter hovered overhead.
The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas was one of several being held in cities across the U.S. Thursday to protest the police killings of two black men earlier this week: A Minnesota officer on Wednesday fatally shot Philando Castile while he was in a car with a woman and a child, and the shooting’s aftermath was livestreamed in a widely shared social-media video. A day earlier, Alton Sterling was shot in Louisiana after being pinned to the pavement by two white officers. That, too, was captured on a cellphone video.
The Dallas shootings occurred in an area of hotels, restaurants, businesses and some residential apartments only a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, the landmark made famous by the Kennedy assassination.
The scene was chaotic, with officers with automatic rifles on the street corners.
“Everyone just started running,” Devante Odom, 21, told The Dallas Morning News. “We lost touch with two of our friends just trying to get out of there.”
Carlos Harris, who lives downtown, told the newspaper that the shooters “were strategic. It was tap, tap, pause. Tap, tap, pause,” he said.
Brown said the suspects “triangulated” in the downtown area where the protesters were marching and had “some knowledge of the route” they would take.
Video posted on social media appeared to show a gunman at ground level exchanging fire with a police officer who was then felled.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said one of the wounded officers had a bullet go through his leg as three members of his squad were fatally shot around him.
“He felt that people don’t understand the danger of dealing with a protest,” said Rawlings, who spoke to the surviving officer. “And that’s what I learned from this: We care so much about people protesting, and I think it’s their rights. But how we handle it can do a lot of things. One of the things it can do is put our police officers in harm’s way, and we have to be very careful about doing that.”
Early Friday morning, dozens of officers filled the corridor of the emergency room at Baylor Medical Center, where other wounded officers were taken. The mayor and police chief were seen arriving there.
Four of the officers who were killed were with the Dallas Police Department, a spokesman said. One was a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer. The agency said in a statement that 43-year-old officer Brent Thompson, a newlywed whose bride also works for the police force, was the first officer killed in the line of duty since the agency formed a police department in 1989.
“Our hearts are broken,” the statement said.
Theresa Williams said one of the wounded civilians was her sister, 37-year-old Shetamia Taylor, who was shot in the right calf. She had thrown herself over her four sons, ages 12 to 17, when the shooting began.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to offer “whatever assistance the City of Dallas needs.”
“In times like this we must remember – and emphasize – the importance of uniting as Americans,” Abbott said.
Other protests across the U.S. on Thursday were peaceful, including in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. In Minnesota, where Castile was shot, hundreds of protesters marched in the rain from a vigil to the governor’s official residence.
President Barack Obama, who was traveling in Poland, expressed his “deepest condolences” to Rawlings on behalf of the American people.
“I believe I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events and we are united with the people and police department in Dallas,” he said.
Obama said the FBI was in contact with Dallas police and that the federal government would provide assistance.
“We still don’t know all of the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” he said.
The president asked all Americans to pray for the victims and their families.
Following the attack, presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton canceled planned events.
“Our nation has become too divided. Too many Americans feel like they’ve lost hope,” Trump said in a statement. “This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion.”
Clinton said on Twitter: “I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families & all who serve with them.”
In a news conference Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the Dallas police shootings are “an unfathomable tragedy.” Lynch said that this has been a week of “profound heartbreak and loss,” but violence is not the answer.
Updated Friday, July 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm