Shooters in Metro ambush that left five dead spoke of white supremacy and a desire to kill police
Two Las Vegas police officers were killed Sunday in what appears to be a politically motivated ambush in a pizza restaurant that spilled over to a nearby Wal-Mart, where the two shooters committed suicide after killing a woman in the store.
Details are sketchy but Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sources close to the investigation say the shooters shouted that “this is the start of a revolution” before opening fire on the officers, and draped their bodies with cloth showing a Revolutionary War-era flag. Investigators have also found paraphernalia associated with white supremacists.
Sunday night Metro homicide investigators and FBI agents cordoned off and were searching a small apartment complex at 110 S. Bruce St., about four miles from the shooting scene. A resident of the complex said he had spoken with a man who lived in the apartment being searched. He said the man appeared “militant,” and often talked about conspiracy theories.
An explosion was heard at the apartment complex at about 9:30 p.m., but no information was immediately available.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie said officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31 were shot while they ate lunch at a CiCi’s Pizza, 309 N. Nellis Boulevard, at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. In a late afternoon news conference he said no motive for the attack has been determined.
“It’s a tragic day,” the sheriff said. “We have lost two officers with young families.”
Beck was a senior patrol officer who had taught Advanced Officer Skills Training and at the Metro academy. He was hired by Metro in 2001 and had a wife and three children.
Soldo has been a Metro officer since 2006 and had a wife and baby. Both were uniform patrol officers assigned to the Northeast Area Command.
A law enforcement official who has been briefed on the incident said an officer — unconfirmed reports indicate it was Soldo — was refilling a soft-drink when the female shooter approached him from behind and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.
The woman then shot the other officer several times as he drew his pistol. Gillespie said the officer was able to return fire but it was unclear if he hit anyone.
One officer was reported dead at the scene, while the other died later in surgery at University Medical Center.
Witnesses told police one of the shooters yelled “This is the start of a revolution” before shooting the officers. Gillespie later said he could not confirm that.
The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.”
The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden a Revolutionary War general who designed it. It has recently come back in vogue as an adopted symbol of the American tea party movement.
The shooters left the pizza parlor and headed into the Wal-Mart across the street at 201 North Nellis. Witnesses at the scene reported hearing shots fired in quick succession inside the Wal-Mart.
At a news conference at about 1 p.m. Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the male shooter, described as a tall white man, yelled “everyone get out” before shooting.
One unconfirmed report is that the two exchanged gunfire with a citizen who was carrying a concealed weapon, and that one of the shooters was injured.
A woman was shot and killed just inside the front doors of the Wal-Mart. Her name has not yet been released.
As Metro officers entered the front and back doors of the store they exchanged gunfire with the shooters, Gillespie said.
The female shooter then shot her accomplice at least once before shooting herself in the head, a law enforcement official said. The wounded man then shot and killed himself. Their identities have not been released by police.
Both shooters were reportedly carrying large duffle bags, and a bomb squad was called to the scene. It’s unclear what, if anything, was found in the bags. A fire department official said the bomb squad response was “a precaution.”
Hector Garcia was shopping in Wal-Mart’s arts and crafts aisle toward the back of the store when he encountered a man brandishing a gun. He looked like he was in his 20s, was wearing camouflage and had a duffle bag draped over his shoulder.
He said the shooter appeared calm when he pointed the gun at him and said, “Don’t run.” The gunman, Garcia said, continued walking to the back of the store. Garcia said that store employees were evacuating customers through the back of the store.
After the gunman walked out of sight, Garcia walked out of the store. Garcia said he was shaken up and couldn’t remember what kind of gun the man carried.
The shooters were a married couple thought to be in their late 20s who were new to the Las Vegas Valley, according to a law enforcement official close to the investigation. Police are looking into their links to the white supremacy movement and found swastika symbols during their initial investigation.
Residents of the Bruce Street apartment complex gathered outside the building to talk about the couple whose unit was being searched.
Several neighbors identified the man as Jared, while one called the woman Amanda.
Like many of the neighbors contacted, Krista Koch said she didn’t know the couple’s last names. She described them as “militant.” They talked about planning to kill police officers, “going underground” and not coming out until the time was right to kill.
Brandon Monroe, 22, has lived in the complex for about two weeks. He said the man who lived in the apartment that was being searched often rambled about conspiracy theories. He often wore camouflage or dressed as Peter Pan to work as a Fremont Street Experience street performer. A woman lived with him, Monroe said, but he didn’t see her as often.
They were weird people, Monroe said, adding that he thought the couple used methamphetamines.
The man told Monroe he had been kicked off Cliven Bundy’s ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas while people from throughout the U.S. gathered there in protest of a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy’s cattle.
Reached Sunday, the rancher’s wife, Carol Bundy, said the shooting and the April standoff against the federal government were not linked.
“I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone,” Carol Bundy said.
Las Vegas police have not said if they believe the attack was more than an isolated incident, but the department asked for any available off-duty officers to work Sunday afternoon. Patrol squads were doubling up so each officer would have a partner, sources said. Metro officers usually patrol solo, but Gillespie said they would continue to ride with partners in the coming days while the investigation continues.
“It’s a very, very difficult day,” Gillespie said, “but we still have a community to police, and we still have a community to protect.”
FBI officials would say little about their involvement in the investigation.
“We will not comment on specifics at this time,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Pappas. “The FBI is working closely with LVMPD and our law enforcement partners to determine the facts of this tragic incident.”
“A WAR ZONE”
Marlene Buck works at the Denny’s on Nellis across from Wal-Mart. She said she was impressed with how quickly Metro responded.
“It took less than fifteen minutes,” she said.
As police patrol cars cordoned off the street, Buck said restaurant customers crowded against the windows and started to rush outside.
“I did everything I could to keep everyone inside,” she said, adding it looked like a war zone and making a machine-gun gesture with her hands.
Late into the afternoon dozens of bystanders were standing outside police tape, watching the investigation. Wal-Mart employees and shoppers cried and hugged before police took them to be interviewed in a nearby store. After talking with witnesses, officers took them to one of several buses waiting in the parking lot.
A grandmother who was shopping in Wal-Mart with her two teenage granddaughters said they crouched in a makeup aisle when they heard shots. She prayed out loud, but the girls asked her to keep quiet so the shooters wouldn’t find them. When they peeked around the aisle and couldn’t see the shooters, they ran out of the store.
Cici’s and Wal-Mart were closed while Metro investigated. CiCi’s Vice President of Operations Geoff Goodman expressed condolences on behalf of the chain.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and our hearts go out to the families and friends of the officers,” Goodman said in a statement. “CiCi’s is assisting police in any way we can.”
Metro had never before seen two officers killed in a single incident. Gillespie said Sunday was an “unprecedented day.”
Three Las Vegas police officers have died in separate on-duty incidents in recent years.
David Vanbuskirk, who died during a helicopter rescue at Mount Charleston, was the first Metro officer killed on-duty since 2009, a year when three officers died in traffic crashes and officer Trevor Nettleton was shot.
Nettleton had just finished his patrol shift when he was attacked in his garage by several would-be robbers, who were later charged with his murder. Although Nettleton had finished his patrol shift and was in street clothes, Metro classified his death as on-duty.
Sgt. Henry Prendes was shot and killed responding to a domestic violence call in 2007.
“We have been luckier than other police agencies,” a Metro officer who asked not to be identified said Sunday. “In a town like this, with the criminals and scumbags we’re dealing with every day, you’re always wondering when something is going to happen.”
The agency lists 18 other on-duty deaths in department history, including seven officers killed before the Las Vegas Police Department consolidated with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in 1973.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman called the attack “a senseless and cruel act killing three innocent people, two who dedicated their lives to protecting all of us in our community and one who was innocently going about her daily life. At UMC Trauma and thereafter with fellow officers, I saw their pain was evident and clear. Their resolve was greater than ever to serve our community with loyalty, dedication and to honor the memory of their two comrades and friends.”
Goodman directed that all flags at city facilities be lowered to half-staff. Metro has asked all department members to shroud their badges with a diagonal black band as a sign of respect for fallen officers.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson went to the scene of the shooting, which he called senseless.
“It is a terrible, terrible day. This community is going to be rocked by this for some time,” Wolfson said.
Gov. Brian Sandoval late Sunday issued the following statement about the attack:
“I am devastated by the news today of two officers and an innocent bystander who were murdered in an act of senseless violence. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. I am receiving regular updates with regard to this tragedy and local and state law enforcement are assisting at the scene.”
Gillespie said he had spoken with the families of the fallen officers.
“Of course, they’re devastated,” Gillespie said. “At a moment’s notice they’ve lost their loved one. But we will be very close by and we will work very closely with them as we move forward through the grieving process.”
This is a developing story. Check back for details.