(AP) — What started as a 911 call reporting a domestic disturbance erupted in violence as two responding officers were struck by deadly gunfire — leaving a rural Georgia community grieving and on edge as police hunted the attacker.
The manhunt lasted barely a day. A telephone tip Thursday morning led police to a home where a SWAT team found the suspected gunman dead inside — apparently having shot himself as officers arrived following a telephone tip.
But the pain and anxiety aren’t over for residents of Americus, a city of about 17,000 people in rural southwest Georgia. There’s still mourning for Americus police Officer Nicholas Smarr, who died in the Wednesday morning attack, and his lifelong friend, university campus Officer Jody Smith, who clung to life for a day after being critically wounded but died from his injuries Thursday.
Police said Smith left the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University to give Smarr backup when he was dispatched to nearby apartments on the domestic fight call.
Fellow officers weren’t surprised Smith would rush to help. The men had been close since grade school and both became law enforcement officers in 2012. They shared a house together in surrounding Sumter County. Sheriff Pete Smith, who once employed both men, said they were engaged to marry their respective fiancees in the coming months.
“It’s tough,” said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chuck Hanks, who knew both officers for years. “We’re a small community. You see these people every day. You work with them every day.”
Smith died Thursday evening, hours after a SWAT team found the body of the suspect, 32-year-old Minquell Lembrick. He died from “what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Americus Police Chief Mark Scott told reporters at a news conference.
During the roughly 24 hours after the shootings that Lembrick remained at large, police warned residents to consider him armed and dangerous. The Georgia Southwestern campus and other nearby schools were placed on lockdown. Law enforcement agencies pooled $70,000 in reward money to offer for information leading to the suspect’s arrest.
“He was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and he wreaked havoc on the community,” said Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Lembrick had an outstanding arrest warrant charging him with kidnapping and other counts when Smarr and Smith encountered him Wednesday morning at an apartment complex where a domestic dispute had been reported, Scott said. But the officers didn’t know whom they were dealing with when they responded to the 911 call.
Within an hour of the shooting, posts on Lembrick’s Facebook page seemed to indicate he didn’t want to be taken alive. One message posted from the account read: “other life gone not going to jail.”
It was soon followed by a four-second Facebook Live video showing a young man partly concealed by shadows saying, “I’m gonna miss y’all folk, man.”
GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles confirmed the Facebook page was Lembrick’s. It was taken down soon after the messages were posted.
After the shootings, Smith was airlifted with critical injuries to a Macon hospital, where he underwent surgery. But Georgia Southwestern State University President Charles Patterson said in a statement Thursday evening that Smith had died from his wounds.
“He heard that call over the radio and he took it upon himself to respond and back up his friend,” said Scott, the Americus police chief. “I can’t say enough about them. They are model officers. They’re both heroes in my opinion.”
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