Authorities have arrested a man who they say gunned down an unsuspecting sheriff's deputy as he was filling up his patrol car at a gas station.
It was the latest fatal ambush of a law enforcement officer in recent months, and what Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman on Saturday called a "senseless and cowardly act."
Deputy Darren Goforth, 47, a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, was in full uniform at a Chevron station northwest of Houston on Friday night when a man approached him from behind and shot him several times, officials said. He died at the scene, leaving behind a wife and two children, ages 12 and 5.
The suspect, Shannon J. Miles, 31, was being held without bail on a charge of capital murder.
Hickman, speaking at an afternoon news conference, said it appeared Goforth was targeted because he was a law enforcement officer but added that the motive for the shooting remained a mystery.
Hours before the arrest was announced, officials did not tie the slaying directly to anti-police sentiment, but did note the stridency of rhetoric aimed at law enforcement officers.
Harris County Dist. Atty. Devon Anderson appeared to allude to recent shootings and incidents involving police officers that have been widely condemned.
"It is time for the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement," she said. "There are a few bad apples in any profession. That does not mean there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.
"The vast majority of officers are there to do the right thing — are there because they care about their community and want to make it a safer place. What happened last night was an assault on the very fabric of society, and it is not anything we can tolerate."
Hickman, who joined Anderson at the Saturday morning news conference, alluded to what he considers "dangerous national rhetoric that is out there today," saying it "has gotten out of control."
Twitter was full of posts Saturday theorizing about a possible connection between Goforth's slaying and calls for attacks on law enforcement earlier in the week on a Houston-area radio show. The hashtag FYF911 appearing on many of the tweets is being used by a group organizing a rally on Sept. 11 in Atlanta, where they say they will burn U.S. and Confederate flags and police uniforms.
Hickman did not specifically mention the deaths of citizens at the hands of law enforcement officers that have sparked controversy in the last two years, such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., but he did note that this shooting did not involve a confrontation with an officer. It was a "cold-blooded execution," he said.
Investigators were aided by surveillance video from the gas station. It showed a man wearing a white T-shirt and red shorts and later traveling in a red Ford Ranger. Hickman said Miles had been seen driving a red pickup truck and was taken into custody overnight. Authorities appealed for the public's help even after Miles was apprehended, Hickman said, in hopes of obtaining more evidence.
Hickman said investigators had recovered a handgun that ballistics tests matched to the shooting.
According to public records, Miles had dozens of encounters with law enforcement. He was charged on New Year's Eve 2006 with displaying or discharging a firearm, and was sentenced to 15 days in jail. In 2007 and again in 2009, he was convicted of resisting arrest, and University of Houston police twice charged him with giving false or fictitious information to a police officer.
Miles graduated from Houston's Cypress Falls High School in 2003 and attended Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, where he studied business administration, according to his Facebook page. He studied accounting at Houston Community College and most recently, in 2011, hotel management at the University of Houston.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group that maintains a database of officer deaths, 80 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, compared with 73 during the same period in 2014. Of the 80 officers, 24 were killed by gunfire.
A report by the group says that firearms-related officer fatalities peaked in 1973, with 84 officers shot and killed in the first six months of that year, and have since decreased from 62 on average in the 1970s to 29 on average in the 2000s.
Last year, New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in an ambush attack while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. The shooting, which was carried out by a lone gunman who later committed suicide, was called a revenge attack for the deaths of Brown and Eric Garner, another black man who died in a confrontation with police.
On Wednesday, a Louisiana police officer, Henry Nelson, was killed by gunfire after he responded to a domestic violence call. On Sunday in the southwest part of that state, a state trooper, Steven Vincent, was killed when he attempted to arrest a driver suspected of being intoxicated. Last week, a deputy sheriff in Nevada, Carl Howell, was shot and killed while responding to domestic violence report in Carson City.
More than 1,500 people gathered for a vigil late Saturday at the gas station where Goforth was killed — a diverse crowd of parents, children and retirees from across the county, plus uniformed law enforcement and chaplains.
Neighbors in the middle-class area of landscaped subdivisions recalled Goforth as a familiar face who looked out for and advised their children.
They pinned blue ribbons to their shirts, stopped officers in the crowd to shake hands and thank them, and placed bouquets by the gas station entrance along with handmade signs that said, "We love our police officers" and "All lives matter."
Among those attending was Andre Reynolds, 47, of Katy.
"There's people out there that are spreading hate about police officers," Reynolds said.
"Watch your back. Don't trust anybody," he advised police. "This is out of control. They're out there to protect and serve."
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston and Duara from Phoenix. Times staff writer Natalie Schachar in Los Angeles contributed to this report.