Investigators were trying to piece together the circumstances of an apparent attempt to shoot at two Los Angeles police officers, which left part of South Los Angeles sealed off into the early hours of Monday morning.
Authorities said it appeared that the officers were shot at while in their patrol car, but the motive remained unclear. The attack is cause for concern given the killings of two New York police officers this month.
The officers were in a patrol car driving south on Hoover Street near 62nd Place on Sunday night when they said they saw a muzzle flash — the visible blast from a gun — and determined that they were being fired at, LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said. The officers returned fire, officials said.
Neiman cited the New York case, saying "everyone's keenly aware of what happened in New York" and there is a "sense of uneasiness."
Initially, Deputy Chief Bob Green described the South L.A. shooting as "an ambush" targeting the officers.
"They were fired upon without any prior contact with the suspects," he said.
But on Monday evening, after detectives reviewed evidence, Green said the gunfire might not have been intended for the officers and might have been related to a separate shooting in the area. He also said it was unclear whether the police cruiser was damaged by the gunfire.
We "can't say definitively it was an attack on police officers or that they drove into something," he said. "At this point, it's too early to say it's one way or the other."
On Monday, police Chief Charlie Beck held a news conference on the autopsy report in the fatal officer-involved shooting in August of 25-year-old Ezell Ford in South L.A. Addressing Sunday's shooting, Beck said the gunshots came from the direction of two men and reiterated that the two officers saw a muzzle flash.
"The officers believed they were the objects of an attack and returned fire," he said.
Police recovered a pistol, rifle and several shell casings, Beck said. Monday evening, the LAPD put out a statement saying that Christopher Taylor, 18, had been arrested on suspicion of shooting at an occupied vehicle. A second suspect remained at large.
The chief said "we are extremely concerned about the possibility that someone would target a uniformed Los Angeles police officer."
But Beck also noted that the neighborhood where the gunfire occurred "has been marked by gang violence, and there have been a significant number of internal gang shootings."
Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement saying: "Violence in our streets or against the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department will not be tolerated. [Sunday night's] incident reminds us of the risks our officers face every day."
The possible shooting at two police officers resulted in a citywide tactical alert, in which officers from across the city were deployed, shifts were held over and a massive search was launched.
The incident prompted a statement from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police union, that placed the reported shooting within the context of the release Monday of an autopsy report of the officer-involved shooting of Ford. Ford was shot three times after he allegedly struggled with two LAPD officers and attempted to remove the gun from one officer's holster.
"Last night, there was an ambush and attempted murder of two LAPD officers in 77th area by what appears to be suspects who simply wanted to kill police officers," Tyler Izen, president of the police union, said in the statement. "This blatant violence should outrage Los Angeles residents and the community at large, as much as it does law enforcement across the nation."
About 8:30 a.m. Monday, one of the officers involved in the shooting showed multiple investigators around the crime scene. Investigators surveyed the east side of Hoover Street, where shell casings lay. Minutes later, investigators huddled around a gutter on the west side of the street, where they removed a weapon that appeared to be a rifle. The neighborhood consists primarily of single-family homes, a few churches and a nearby high school.
Christopher Oliver, 50, said that at the time of the shooting he was working on his cars in the back of his house on 62nd Place, just steps away from where investigators found shell casings.
He said all he heard was the shots — "and you know it ain't fireworks."
He immediately "locked up everything and got in the house."
Officers arrived within minutes and blocked off the area. Oliver said his son had gone around the corner and was not allowed back to the house. "He had to spend the night at the neighbors'," Oliver said.
A three-block area was immediately cordoned off as police scoured the area with search dogs.
Just before 11 p.m., the LAPD advised residents to stay indoors. "Armed suspect in the area," the 77th Street station said on its Facebook page. "Please keep our officers in your thoughts and prayers!"
Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.