Firefighter killed in St. Louis-area standoff

Monday, July 21, 2008 | 5:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MAPLEWOOD — A gunman shot at firefighters responding to a report of a burning pickup truck early Monday, killing one, then opened fire on police, wounding two officers.

Authorities believed the suspect had been holed up in a nearby burning house that eventually collapsed. The status of the suspect wasn’t known Monday afternoon, but police were searching the ashes for his remains, as well as any evidence, said St. Louis County police spokeswoman Tracy Panus.

The incident began at 5:40 a.m. with a report of a pickup truck fire in Maplewood, a suburban town just southwest of St. Louis. When firefighters arrived, someone began firing shots.

Officials said 22-year-old Ryan Hummert, a firefighter/paramedic from Maplewood, was shot to death as he got off a fire truck.

Two police officers were also injured. One was being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital for a gunshot wound to the right shoulder, an injury that was not considered life-threatening, St. Mary’s Hospital spokesman Eric Clark said. The other injured officer was taken to another hospital, and there was no word on his condition.

Hummert, the son of former Maplewood Mayor Andy Hummert, began his career in August 2007 after graduating from paramedic training. He graduated from the St. Louis County Fire Academy in March.

“He had been with the fire department for only 10 months but knew it was his calling,” Fire Chief Terry Merrell said at a brief news conference as he fought back tears. “It’s impossible to say in words the emotion and pain we are feeling right now.”

Dozens of police officers from Maplewood and nearby communities had surrounded the burning brick bungalow for several hours, rifles pointed at the home as smoke poured from it.

Around 10:30 a.m., the fire suddenly intensified and loud popping sounds could be heard, neighbor Lamira Martin told KSDK-TV.

“Oh my God, the windows are blowing out,” Martin told the TV station.

By the afternoon, the house had collapsed, Panus said, and police were using heavy equipment to sort through the debris.

Little was known about the suspect, whom neighbors described as quiet and reclusive.

Peter McCreary, a St. Louis County police chaplain, said his mother lives across the street — the burning truck was in her driveway, but it wasn’t hers and she didn’t know how it got there.

McCreary’s mother, 81-year-old Julia McCreary, awoke to what she thought was a backfiring vehicle. It turned out to be gunfire. Soon after, police arrived and took her out a back door, carrying her over a fence to safety.

Julia McCreary told her son that in the two years she lived in the house she had waved to the man, but he never spoke to her.

Sanyoz Rai, who works at a 7-Eleven store nearby, said he heard three or four shots at around 5:45 a.m., then saw a police officer go to the ground holding his shoulder. Rai said he then saw a firefighter on the ground behind the truck. He said the body remained there for an hour before authorities could get close enough to remove it.

Janet Kinkelar said her dog, Sugar, awakened her. As she let the dog out, two armed police officers in her yard yelled, “Get in! Get in!”

Later, officers pounded on doors in the neighborhood, telling people to evacuate immediately.

Another neighbor, Joanna Bedford, was asleep when police arrived.

“They knocked on my door — bam, bam!,” she said. “They said, ‘Let’s go. Go right now!’”

At Maplewood City Hall, the mood was somber, with people crying and hugging each other. Black and purple bunting was placed around City Hall, and a flag flew at half-staff. Cindy Manestar, 42, and her two young sons stopped by to place flowers at the base of the flag pole.

“I can’t believe someone would do this,” her 9-year-old son, Nathan, said.

The incident was the latest of several high-profile crimes in the St. Louis region this year.

In February, a disgruntled resident of the suburban town of Kirkwood walked into a City Council meeting and killed two police officers, two council members and the public works director before he was gunned down by police. The gunman, Charles “Cookie” Thornton, had a long-running feud with the city over multiple code violations concerning his small contracting company.

In June, an Arkansas couple was beaten to death outside a hotel in Festus. Authorities suspect Nicholas Sheley killed six people in Illinois before killing the couple in Festus. He was captured a short time later in Granite City, Ill.

Last week, two people died inside Jamestown Mall in north St. Louis County. Police say S.A. Carson let the air out of his wife’s tires, apparently so she could not get away, then went inside and shot her to death before turning the gun on himself.

And on Saturday, 57-year-old Boris Shotekoff killed his wife and sister and brutally beat his brother-in-law before taking his own life, police said.

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