ELLENSBURG, Wash. – The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office says the deadly officer involved shooting started first as a call to 911 for a road rage incident but it all ended in tragedy.
Investigators say officers followed the suspect for about nine miles and the chase ended in the town of Kittitas.
Three minutes later the shooting started.
Kittitas Police Officer Benito Chavez, who joined Kittitas County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Thompson, was shot in the legs and was flown to Harborview Medical Center for treatment. Thompson died during the shooting along with the suspect, say officials.
“Last night was the worst incident in my 45 plus years in law enforcement,” said KCSO Chief Gene Dana. “It’s something someone as a chief or sheriff wishes would never, ever happen on their watch.”
It’s the first time a law enforcement officer has been gunned down in the county in nearly a century.
Thompson, 42, leaves behind a wife and three small children. The suspect who killed him was 29-year-old Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro of Ellensburg. He died at a hospital shortly after the shootout.
“I had seen the flags at half-staff, and I was hoping that it was here so I could stop and say a prayer here,” said Tami Merkle who left flowers at the memorial.
People of all walks of life shared their grief, dropping off flowers and sharing a prayer.
“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling,” said Larry Loveless.
“We thank the support of all the people and it’s very personal,” said Sherriff Dana. “We’re a small agency, we’re like family so it’s very sad.”
“She could have been out here riding her bike,” said Robert Frank who lives near the shooting scene in nearby Kittitas.
The Frank family is terrified to think what could have been had last night’s shootout been in their front yard where little Alexa could have been in harm’s way.
“We don’t expect that kind of danger or threats in our own back yard,” said Miranda Frank.
Only blocks away bullet holes sliced through a pickup truck where a police chase ended in the small city of Kittitas.
Neighbor Cheryle Rose says she and her family turned out the lights and fell to the floor when they heard the gunshots.
“Just profound sadness, it’s just a tragedy,” she told Q13 News.
Around the corner from the shooting scene, a small show of appreciation appeared this morning on a fence. Balloons and signs sharing love and support for officer Chavez who was injured. Some messages also shared appreciation for deputy Thompson.
“I just can’t imagine what that family is going through right now,” said Robert Frank.
A trailer park is where investigators say a gunfight broke out between a road rage suspect and deputy Thompson and Kittitas Police officer Chavez.
Investigators say the suspect died in the shootout along with deputy Thompson, Chavez is recovering in Seattle after being shot.
Meanwhile, the Kittitas Valley struggles with the loss of one of their own and wonder why this kind of gun violence came to their community.
”I think we all just have to pull together as a community to support each other,” said Miranda Frank.
While exactly what happened last night is still unknown, the Ellensburg Police Department is the outside agency investigating the officer involved shooting.
Investigators will perform interviews, read reports and piece together a timeline of the incident which could take weeks.
Accounts have been set up at US Bank to help the officers' families.
People may make donations to US Bank to any of these three accounts:
Donations may be made in person or a check may be mailed to any US Bank branch. To ensure funds are deposited into the correct account, please provide the teller with the name of the fund or indicate it on the memo line of the mailed check.
Family funds are for family expenses while the memorial fund is for funeral expenses. Any excess funds after the funeral service will be released to Deputy Thompson’s wife.