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Ferguson officer shootings: Motive unclear, suspect search continues

'I cannot say that an arrest is imminent,' police official says of Ferguson police shooting

Police were still evaluating tips, surveillance video and other evidence as they searched for possible suspects and the motive behind the shooting this week of two police officers in the embattled city of Ferguson.

Officers searched a house and questioned three people Thursday but no arrests were made, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a briefing Friday in the neighboring city of Clayton, another St. Louis suburb.

“I cannot say that an arrest is imminent,” Belmar said, but he added that the trail had not gone cold and investigators were still checking leads.

Three shots were fired early Thursday morning as police stood facing a crowd of protesters outside the Ferguson Police Department. Two officers were struck, one from St. Louis County police, the other from Webster Groves Police Department.

Belmar said he couldn’t speculate about the caliber of weapon or whether authorities were searching for a lone shooter or multiple suspects.

Few people actually saw what happened, Belmar said. But after talking to community leaders, he said, “we have a general idea of where the shots came from.”

The motive for the shooting remained unclear, including whether police were the targets. Although the shots may have been fired at the crowd, “I will not walk away…from the possibility that these officers were targeted,” Belmar said, adding, “It’s a tragedy either way because it undermines everything everybody is trying to do with this.”

Crimestoppers has offered a $10,000 reward for information in connection with the shooting. Belmar said more donations were pouring in and officials were considering increasing the reward.

Belmar spoke with the wounded St. Louis County officer on Friday and met with both officers Thursday, and said they were doing well physically and mentally.

“I would hope they would have a full recovery, and I know physically they’re working toward that,” he said.

One officer was shot in the shoulder, the other under his eye, and as Belmar stood at county police headquarters in front of the portraits of nine officers killed in the line of duty since 1975, he noted: “We’re maybe less than an inch away from a tragedy with both of these officers.”

Belmar says that since the shooting, he has met with the governor and Ferguson’s mayor and heard from members of Missouri’s congressional delegation and the local National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and that all have expressed support.

He said St. Louis County police were providing temporary “security for civil disobedience that would stem from protests” and were not in talks to contract with Ferguson to provide complete police services, as they do for 74 other municipalities in the county at a cost of $20 million.

“This isn’t about patrolling the city of Ferguson,” he said.

But he said his officers were working to build up relationships with the community in Ferguson.

“The No. 1 priority in the Police Department is to make sure we continue a tempo of service and relationships in the Ferguson area to make sure we don’t have a regression of everything we have accomplished since last fall,” he said. “I don’t feel like we can afford to go back.”

Belmar planned to visit his officers late Friday at their command post, just as he did Thursday night, “to take a pulse of what their attitude was.”

On Thursday, he found officers from both agencies “were doing fine emotionally,” he said.

“There wasn’t a sentiment of anger or frustration,” Belmar said. “I assure you, they’re squared away. We’ve been through a lot since August.”

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