Two Iowa police officers were found fatally shot in their squad vehicles at separate intersections near Des Moines early Wednesday, and police are urgently hunting for a man they’ve named as a suspect in the deaths.
“There is a clear and present danger to police officers right now,” an emotional Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek told reporters.
Police say they’re looking for Scott Michael Greene, 46, of Urbandale, Iowa, in connection with the officers’ deaths in Urbandale and Des Moines.
Police discovered the first officer around 1:05 a.m., when someone reported shots being fired. Responding officers found the body of an Urbandale police officer, still seated in his squad car, at an Urbandale intersection just northwest of Des Moines, Parizek said.
Twenty minutes later, as officers were responding to the Urbandale shooting, an officer found a Des Moines police officer shot at an intersection in Des Moines, about 2 miles southeast of the first scene.
That wounded officer — who, like the Urbandale officer, was seated in his vehicle — later died at a hospital, Parizek said.
“On the surface right now … it doesn’t look like there was any interaction between these officers and whoever the coward is that shot them while they sat in their cars,” Parizek said, holding back tears.
“In all appearances it looks … that these officers were ambushed,” he added.
The officers’ names weren’t released.
‘These guys were gunned down … doing nothing wrong’
Leads and tips led detectives to name Greene as a suspect, Urbandale police Sgt. Chad Underwood said, without elaborating.
Investigators believe Greene has information that “could be vital to what happened this morning,” Parizek said, adding that detectives “told us he’s a suspect.”
Greene was last known to be driving a blue 2011 Ford F-150 with Iowa license plate 780 YFR, police said. The truck has a silver-colored topper with a ladder rack, police said.
Greene is 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighs 180 pounds and has brown hair and green eyes, police said.
“Greene is believed to be armed and should be considered dangerous. If seen, please do not approach Greene, but call 911 and report his location,” police said in a news release.
Parizek said “there is clearly danger if you’re a police officer.”
“These guys were gunned down sitting in their car, doing nothing wrong. So, there’s definitely some danger out there. There’s somebody out there shooting police officers. We hope we find him before anybody else gets hurt.”
Highest number of officers killed by guns since 2011
Wednesday’s deaths bring to at least 51 the number of police officers fatally shot in the US and Puerto Rico in 2016. That’s the highest one-year total since 2011, when 73 were shot dead, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
They also come just months after two high-profile deadly surprise attacks against police officers in Texas and Louisiana.
On July 7, a gunman shot and killed five police officers in Dallas during a protest of controversial police shootings of black men in other states. The Dallas shooter, who police subsequently killed, said he was upset with the other shootings, police said.
On July 17, gunman Gavin Long shot six law officers, killing three, in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, police say. A SWAT officer subsequently shot and killed Long.
Long apparently visited Dallas after the shootings there, posting a YouTube video July 10 in which he spoke of the protests, and a notion that victims of bullying need to resort to brute force.
The Baton Rouge and Dallas shootings came after the controversial shooting deaths of two black men by police officers, including that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5 and Philando Castile in Minnesota a day later. The shootings spurred protests across the country.
Third Des Moines officer to die this year
The slain Des Moines officer is the third in that city to die in the line of duty this year. Two Des Moines officers — Susan Farrell and Carlos Puente Morales — were killed March 26 when their vehicle was hit head-on by a driver going the wrong way, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“I don’t even know where to begin, how bad this year is (for Des Moines police),” Parizek said, after a reporter asked him how officers can prepare to do their jobs amid another tragedy. “This is what we do. We come in, day in, day out. We go out there and we provide the same level of service regardless of what’s going on in our personal or professional lives.”
“We know we’ve got the best community. We saw that after Carlos and Susan were killed, and I certainly expect we’re going to see the same thing coming,” he said.
The Urbandale Police Department, a force of about 50 officers, said it believes this is the first officer it has lost in the line of duty.
“An attack on public safety officers is an attack on the public safety of all Iowans,” said Ben Hammes, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “We call on Iowans to support our law enforcement officials in bringing this suspect to justice.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the police officers who were tragically killed in the line of duty as well as the officers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way.”
By Jason Hanna and Max Blau, CNN
CNN’s Darran Simon contributed to this report.