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.
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.
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.