A seemingly routine police stop turned into a deadly shootout in a North Rapid neighborhood late Tuesday afternoon that killed one Rapid City police officer and wounded two other officers and the gunman.
It also left the Rapid City law-enforcement community stunned and saddened at the loss of Officer James Ryan McCandless, 28, the first city police officer shot dead in the line of duty since 1916.
Rapid City police Chief Steven Allender reflected that communal trauma as he struggled with his emotions throughout a Tuesday evening news conference.
"These officers are heroes," Allender said in a news conference that started at 8:40 p.m. Tuesday. "I'd ask you and the rest of the community to honor them."
Allender said that three officers made contact with four subjects about 4:30 p.m. at the intersection Anamosa and Greenbriar streets in North Rapid in what seemed like a routine stop. But after a few minutes, one of the men pulled a gun and fired multiple rounds at the officers, and at least one of them returned fire, Allender said.
The officers were wearing protective vests, which don't provide 100 percent protection against gunfire, Allender said.
"Unfortunately, they only cover the upper torso, so they're not foolproof," he said.
McCandless was pronounced dead shortly after being rushed to Rapid City Regional Hospital, Allender said.
Officer Nick Armstrong underwent surgery and was in critical condition Tuesday night, Allender said. Officer Tim Doyle, the other policeman who was shot Tuesday, was hospitalized but was stable.
The stop was nothing out of the ordinary until the shooting started, Allender said.
"This was not a bank robbery. It was not a high-risk endeavor," he said. "It was a routine stop in its appearance."
But all routine stopped shortly after 4:30 p.m., when the words "officer shot" screamed over police radios and sent other officers from various law-enforcement agencies rushing to the scene from across the city. At about the same time, Kraig Buell was driving west on Anamosa when he approached the crime scene shortly after the shooting.
"It must have been a couple of minutes after it occurred. I saw one officer on his back in the street in a pool of blood, and another was dazed and on all fours on the corner," Buell said as he stood at the scene a few minutes later. "There was someone doing chest compression on the officer in the middle of the street."
"The officer down on his hands and knees was holding his face, but he kept waving away people trying to help, pointing to the other guy," Buell said.
Buell said he made a 911 call and told the dispatcher "This is really big. There are police officers down."
As patrol cars raced to the scene, one lost control and hit a pole on North Maple and College avenues, about five blocks from the intersection where the shooting occurred. Area resident Bob Nelson said he didn't believe anyone was seriously injured in the crash.
"Then right after that, about six more cops cars came blowing through there," Nelson said.
Nelson said he was outdoors with his dog when he heard what sounded like gunfire before the patrol car accident.
"I heard two shorts first, and then more shots. I don't know how many," he said.
He walked a few blocks to Anamosa and Greenbriar streets and stood with dozens of other neighborhood residents as grim-faced law-enforcement officers -- some with black assault rifles in hand -- blocked off a crime-scene perimeter with yellow tape.
The investigation blocked Anamosa for two blocks and had residents of the neighborhood comparing stories and fears.
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"Right now, I don't feel very safe," said Michele Taylor, who lives near the scene.
Another neighbor, Sheila Paulus, said she was shocked by the shooting.
"I couldn't believe it. It looked like a movie," she said. "It's unbelievable."
But Paulus also said that what she is accustomed to seeing on TV in cities far away can and did happen anywhere.
That's the reality North Rapid residents face as authorities sort through details of the shooting.
Allender said during the news conference that he didn't know how many shots were fired. He also said that authorities have yet to confirm the identity of the shooting suspect, whom he said is a Native American male in his 20s. The suspect was in the hospital Tuesday night undergoing surgery. Allender said they expected to identify the suspect today.
Because Rapid City police officers were involved in the shooting, the investigation is being handled by the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Pennington County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Kevin Thom said investigators would work at the crime scene throughout the night with Rapid City Fire Department crews providing lights and the Red Cross offering food and beverages. Thom said the scene might be reopened by about noon today.
"This is not a who-done-it investigation," Thom said. "We don't have to go out and try to find a suspect. But there still is work to do."
Allender said only one of the four people at the scene was involved in the shooting. He said the incident is a reminder that every stop by law-enforcement officers carries the potential for danger, a fact that won't be lost on officers as they resume their duties under a cloud of grief today.
But they will resume their duties, Allender said, with the same level of commitment shown by the officers shot on Tuesday.
"This is family," the police chief said.
Mayor Sam Kooiker was at the hospital with family members of the officers and also was at the news conference Tuesday night.
"It's a tragic situation, and our hearts go out to their families," Kooiker said. "There are a lot of people praying tonight."
Kooiker said "it's another reminder in a long list of reminders how unpredictable life can be."
People who live close to the shooting were mulling that thought as officers continued to investigate Tuesday. A woman who lives in the area stood near a "yard sale" sign behind yellow crime-scene tape wondering if the neighborhood was safe for her and her 4-year-old daughter.
"It's getting scary around here," she said.
Initially the woman gave her name but asked a few minutes later if she could be quoted anonymously.
"I don't want to get shot," she said. "You never know with people these days."
Reporters Emilie Rusch and David Montgomery contributed to this story.
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or firstname.lastname@example.org