Four police officers were shot and killed yesterday in what authorities called a targeted ambush at a coffee house in Washington state, a sheriff's official said. A gunman burst into a coffee shop outside Seattle and shot dead four police officers in what investigators described as an "execution".
Shocked customers and staff at the Forza coffee shop looked on as the officers – three men and one woman – were gunned down while they caught up on paperwork before the start of their shift.
Police put up a $10,000 (£6,000) reward for information about the killer and began a manhunt for the male gunman, who fled the scene on foot.
Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said it wasn't clear whether the officers had time to draw their weapons to return fire. "This was more of an execution – walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers," he said.
The attack, at 8.15am, clearly targeted the officers, rather than being a robbery gone bad, according to Mr Troyer. "There were patrol cars outside and they were all in uniform."
The Forza coffee shop is one of a popular local chain, on a side street near McChord air force base in Tacoma, south of Seattle. The shop is in a small retail centre.
Investigators were considering whether the incident was a copycat killing, following the murder a month ago of a Seattle police officer. Timothy Brenton was shot and killed on Halloween night as he was sitting in a cruiser with a trainee, Britt Sweeney. Mr Brenton's suspected killer, Christopher Monfort, 41, remains in hospital after a shoot-out two days later. Authorities say Mr Monfort also fire-bombed four police vehicles last month, waging a "one-man war" against law enforcement.
Brad Carpenter, the owner of Forza Coffee, said his staff were unhurt, and that his main concern was with the families of the officers. "I'm a retired police officer, so this really hits close to home for me," he told the Associated Press.
Streets around the coffee shop were blocked off on Sunday morning, and a police helicopter hovered overhead. Television footage showed police taking possession of a truck parked in a grocery store nearby. "We are looking at some people. We are looking at some cars. We are looking at some residences," Mr Troyer said.
Washington's Governor Chris Gregoire said she was "shocked and horrified" by the killings. "Our police put their lives on the line every day, and tragedies like this remind us of the risks they take to keep our communities safe," she said. "My heart goes out to the family, friends and co-workers of these officers."
The victims were not named. Early reports said a second person had aided the killer, and police said they had not ruled out the existence of an accomplice.