A man fleeing a gunfight with one police officer confronted another and fatally shot him in a southwestern Michigan city alley, police said Tuesday. The gunman then turned the gun on himself.
Officer Eric Zapata, a 10-year veteran of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, was shot in the head and chest late Monday night, Chief Jeff Hadley said during a news conference. The 35-year-old officer was declared dead at a hospital.
"We as a community did not send one of our officers home safely at the end of his shift," Hadley said.
The suspect, 31-year-old Leonard Statler, died from what police belief was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Officers were called to the city's Edison neighborhood about 11:18 p.m. Monday following a report of shots being fired.
The first officer to arrive saw Statler on a porch and asked if he heard any shots, Hadley said.
At that point, Statler was not a suspect but he pulled out a gun and began trading shots with the officer, who radioed for help as he took cover, Hadley said.
Statler then fled, running between two houses. Moments later, the officer who had questioned him and others in the area heard more gunshots.
They found Zapata and rushed him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Statler had been involved in a custody dispute with the mother of his 4-year-old daughter. A hearing on the matter was held Friday in Family Court.
Statler also had previous convictions for operating a vehicle under the influence, malicious destruction of property and carrying a concealed weapon, it said.
The department's Criminal Investigations Division and Office of Professional Standards are investigating the shooting.
"The officers are pretty emotional right now, as they should be. They've lost a friend and a colleague," Hadley told the newspaper earlier Tuesday.
Kalamazoo's public safety offices lowered flags to half-staff and officers wrapped a thin, black band across their badges.
"Kalamazoo Public Safety request prayers for the officer's family, loved ones and members of our department in the aftermath of this tragedy," the department said in a statement.
Funeral services for Zapata, a father of three, are pending. He joined the department in 2001 and worked the night shift in the neighborhood where he was killed. Zapata's family is expected to make a statement about the shooting Wednesday at police headquarters.
Kalamazoo is about 50 miles south of Grand Rapids and about 130 miles west of Detroit.