U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday hailed the courage of a federal marshal killed during a shootout with a St. Louis felon, the second on-duty shooting death in a month for an agency that had gone years without one.
John Perry, a deputy U.S. marshal for nearly 10 years, was killed in the shootout that left a drug and assault suspect dead and two other law enforcement officers wounded. He died Tuesday night in the hospital, 12 hours after being shot in the head.
According to a national clearinghouse, it had been since at least 1993 that an on-duty marshal was shot to death prior to the Feb. 16 shooting of Derek Hotsinpiller in West Virginia.
Holder said the actions of Hotsinpiller, Perry and the two officers who were wounded alongside Perry "reflect the dedication and courage that defines America's law enforcement community."
Their injuries, Holder said, are a "solemn reminder" of the dangers regularly confronted in a job that involves searching for fugitives and assisting local police during arrests.
"Their service, their courage and their willingness to risk their own lives to protect the safety of others will not be forgotten," Holder said in a statement.
The fellow deputy marshal wounded with Perry _ 31-year-old Theodore Abegg, a three-year veteran _ remained hospitalized Wednesday in fair condition with a gunshot wound to an ankle. A St. Louis city policeman grazed by a bullet in the confrontation with Boles was released from a hospital hours later.
From 1960 through last year, 17 marshals have been killed by various causes, including such things as car wrecks, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Only 10 of the deaths over the past 50 years came by gunfire.
"Up until this year it was relatively rare, and suddenly two marshals have lost their lives (within weeks). That's a matter of concern," said Steve Groeninger, the fund's senior communications chief.
St. Louis police suspected Carlos Boles, a two-time prison inmate with a criminal history dating back nearly two decades, would be trouble when they went to arrest him on charges that he assaulted a law enforcer and possessed drugs, so they enlisted federal marshals for backup.
When the law enforcers converged shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday on Boles' St. Louis home, authorities say, three children belonging to the suspect's sister were allowed to leave the two-story house before the officers went in. During a floor-by-floor search, police spotted Boles, 35, on the second floor, and he started blasting and was killed in the gunfire exchange, police said.
"Our people and our partners are well-trained and prepared, but it is impossible to predict when a wanted individual will make a fateful choice that results in the loss of life or injury," Stacia Hylton, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, said in a statement Tuesday night announcing Perry's death. "When that happens, and the life lost is a law enforcement officer or other public servant, it is an immeasurable tragedy felt by all.
"Today, unfortunately, we again feel that pain."