FERGUSON, Missouri— A manhunt continued Friday for the gunman responsible for shooting two police officers here this week, as the nation’s eyes once again turn to this small, beleaguered Midwestern city.
“I cannot tell you at this point that an arrest is imminent. There’s certainly no one in custody,” said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar in a press conference late Friday. The shooting took place early Thursday morning in front of the Ferguson police headquarters. Belmar added that while the department has received “scores of tips,” there hasn’t been enough information to warrant a task force.A diverse crowd of more than 60 protesters and community members broke bread on Friday night over bowls of hot soup in the basement of St. Mark’s Church. Bishop Derrick Robinson, a prominent voice among protesters and an organizer for the night’s dinner, said he was encouraged by the lasting success of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We don’t really call ourselves protesters, we call ourselves family,” he said.
A small group ended the night by caravanning together to pay tribute to the place where the seeds of the movement took root: the memorial of Michael Brown. “This place holds a very special meaning,” Robinson told the group. Some clasped hands, standing face-to-face with their fellow demonstrators in the middle of the street where Brown was shot dead, as they silently prayed under the thick, pelting rain.
Two Missouri congressmen, Emanuel Cleaver and Lacy Clay, whose district includes Ferguson, have posted a $3,000 reward for the shooter. CrimeStoppers is also offering a reward, $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. “As you know there is substantial reward money out there right now, and that’s something we would hope will help further the investigation,” Belmar said on Friday.
Clay said that he condemned the “cowardly ambush of the brave officers” and asked that people join him in praying for a swift recovery for the officers and continued healing for the community. “The path of violence does not lead to justice,” Clay said.Earlier on Thursday, a police tactical unit descended on a residential street about four blocks from the police station, and neighbors said they hauled out two men and a woman from a home. They were questioned and later released. Belmar thanked them during Friday’s press conference for their cooperation.
Police say a handgun was used in the shooting, that no suspects have been identified and that it was not clear if shell casings recovered from the area where police believe the shots were fired from were actually from the shooting. “We’re lucky by God’s grace that we didn’t lose those two officers,” Belmar said during a press conference on Thursday. “We could have buried two police officers next week because of this.”
It was announced Thursday that the St. Louis County Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol would resume responsibility for policing the Ferguson protests, a duty they held for much of the summer during the height of unrest following the killing of Michael Brown by former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in August.
A full day after Thursday’s shooting, many questions remain as rumors begin to swirl around the incident and the possible gunman.
Belmar said witnesses saw muzzle flashes and heard several shots come from about 125 yards across the street from the police station and from behind the protesters. The officers, one from the St. Louis County police department and the other from the Webster Grove department, suffered non-life-threatening wounds, one to the face and the other to the shoulder.
When asked at Friday’s press conference whether it was possible the shooters were targeting the crowd, Belmar said he couldn’t discount that, but he also added that it’s possible the officers were the intended targets.
While officials including President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and many state and local leaders have described an ambush and attack on the officers, others said they simply don’t know what the shooter’s motivations may have been and that protesters’ lives were also endangered during the shooting.
On Thursday night, more than 100 protesters and members of the clergy gathered not far from the scene of the shooting for a candlelight vigil to pray for the injured officers and an end to all violence – associated with the Ferguson protest movement or otherwise.
“Whoever was the culprit last night did not come from this community,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, an organizer of the vigil on Thursday night. “We will not be moved. We will not give up.”
Following the quiet, somber vigil, protesters moved down the street to the police station, where they chanted and, for a time, blocked traffic. But it was a different scene than the night before, when hundreds of people showed up just hours after Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson announced his resignation. That night, amid some celebration of Jackson’s impending departure, there was an angry call for a continued shakeup of city leadership.
Since last week’s release by the Department of Justice of a scathing report that found widespread abuses and constitutional violations committed by Ferguson police, nearly half a dozen police and city leaders have resigned or been fired, including John Shaw, the city’s powerful city manager.
On Friday morning, a chilly rain fell over Ferguson, and few protesters braved the steady downpour. But one man marched back and forth across the street from the police station, chanting “No Justice, no Peace, no racist police!”