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2 Police Officers Shot Amid Protest At Ferguson Police Department

Police in riot gear respond to demonstrators blocking traffic during a protest Wednesday outside the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri. As the protests were ending, someone fired at the police and wounded two officers.
Michael B. Thomas
Getty Images
Police in riot gear respond to demonstrators blocking traffic during a protest Wednesday outside the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri. As the protests were ending, someone fired at the police and wounded two officers.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said two police officers were shot and seriously wounded shortly after midnight outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department. The shooting occurred as a protest outside the police station had begun to wind down.

A St. Louis County police officer and an officer from nearby Webster Groves, Mo., were shot, according to Belmar. He did not identify them by name.

The Webster Groves officer was struck once in the face. He is 32 years old and a five-year veteran of the force, Belmar said. He said the St. Louis County officer is 41 years old and a 14-year veteran of the force. That officer was struck once in the shoulder.

We will be updating this story with the latest developments. For more coverage, please visit our friends at St. Louis Public Radio, who are live-blogging the events.

Update at 1:46 p.m. ET Officers Released From Hospital

Both officers have been released from hospital, reporter Tim Lloyd of St. Louis Public radio reports.

The family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black man shot dead in Ferguson by a white police officer last August, called the shooting "senseless" and said their "thoughts and prayers remain with the officers injured during this morning's shooting and their families." In a statement, they said:

"We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement. It cannot and will not be tolerated.

"We specifically denounce the actions of stand-alone agitators who unsuccessfully attempt to derail the otherwise peaceful and non-violent movement that has emerged throughout this nation to confront police brutality and to forward the cause of equality under the law for all."

Attorney General Eric Holder called the shooting "inexcusable and repugnant."

Update at 10:10 a.m. ET: Injury Updates, And More Details

The two police officers who were shot had been standing in a line of more than a dozen officers, Belmar said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Belmar said the Webster Groves officer was shot just below his right eye, and that the bullet is now lodged in the back of his head. The St. Louis County officer was struck in the shoulder, and the bullet passed through and exited his back.

He said, based on the shell casings found on the scene, the weapon used is believed to be a handgun. The St. Louis County Police Department has posted evidence photographs on Facebook.

Despite the serious nature of the injuries, Belmar said, the officers aren't expected to have any "remarkable long-term injuries." He said he had spoken with both of the officers.

"I think it's a miracle that we haven't had any instances similar to this" before now, Belmar said, noting other occurrences of gunfire at protests in Ferguson.

"When you look at the tenor of at least some of the people" involved in protests, he said, it is difficult for officers to discern who might pose a threat.

The St. Louis County police chief added that when shots were fired last night, the officers saw muzzle flashes later estimated to be about 125 yards away. He said the officers drew their weapons but did not discharge them.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we were very close to what happened in New York," Belmar said, referring to the recent fatal shooting of two officers there.

"This is really an ambush, is what it is," he said later.

Belmar said he had been surprised by the amount of "agitation" at the protest.

At one point, he acknowledged that there was "an unfortunate association" between whoever fired the shots and the protesters who were there for what he called "the right reasons."

Belmar also said he hasn't confirmed reports that rocks or bottles had been thrown at the officers during Wednesday night's protest. He repeatedly said it is "very difficult" for officers to identify potential threats in such situations.

Our original post continues:

Belmar described both gunshot wounds as "very serious injuries." Their wounds are not believed to be life-threatening. Both officers are being treated in a local hospital and their families are with them, according to Belmar.

The protests followed the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson earlier Wednesday, a move that followed a scathing report of racial bias in the Ferguson police department by the U.S. Department of Justice. Many in the crowd were reportedly calling for the town's mayor to resign, as well.

"The shots came just after midnight as people were starting to leave," reports St. Louis Public Radio. "Belmar said he believed the shooters were embedded in the group that remained, a point fiercely disputed by protesters on the scene."

The member station notes that several protesters who witnessed the shooting say the shots had been fired from behind them.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Mark Katkov