April 21st, 2024

A shaken Minnesota community waits for answers on the killings of 2 officers and 1 firefighter

By Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press on February 19, 2024.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A man who died after fatally shooting two police officers and a paramedic in a wooded Minneapolis-area neighborhood wasn’t legally allowed to have guns and was entangled in a years-long dispute over the custody and financial support of his three oldest children, court records show.

Authorities on Monday identified Shannon Gooden, 38, as the man who opened fire on police in the affluent suburb of Burnsville after they responded to a domestic disturbance call early Sunday. The call reported that he had barricaded himself in his home with family members, including seven children aged 2 to 15. He was found dead inside the home hours later.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – It started out as a 911 call about a domestic incident. It ended with two police officers, a firefighter and the suspect dead, a third officer wounded, and a mostly affluent suburb of Minneapolis badly shaken and waiting for answers.

Agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were still conducting their preliminary investigation and did not plan to release any updates Monday, spokesperson Bonney Bowman said. They planned to share more information once that was complete, she added.

That meant that several key questions remained unanswered a day later. Authorities have not released the name of the suspect or said what prompted the 911 call early Sunday from a home in a wooded, well-to-do neighborhood of single-family homes on curvy streets in Burnsville, a city of around 64,000 located about 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of downtown Minneapolis.

An order by Gov. Tim Walz took effect at sunrise Monday for flags to fly at half-staff at all state-owned buildings, with individuals, businesses and other organizations encouraged to join in to honor the three who gave their lives in service to their community. Speaking at a news conference Sunday, Walz urged Minnesotans who drive by these flags “to maybe pause and think about these first responders, these public safety officials. They’re moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They’re the world to a lot of people.”

A web page started by the city contained no fresh updates on the investigation Monday, and city spokespeople said they could not provide additional information.

Members of the Minnesota House and Senate stood with bowed heads for moments of silence Monday for the fallen officers and firefighter.

“Our police officers and medics and fire, they come to work every day,” said Rep. Jeff Witte, of Lakeville, who served in the Burnsville Police Department for 27 years. “They do it willingly to protect and serve our communities, knowing that they may have to give up their life for a partner or the community. And if you’re not in the profession, you can’t understand: the goal is to go home to their families.”

BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said Sunday that Burnsville police were called to the home around 1:50 a.m. Sunday about a “domestic situation where a man was reported to be armed and barricaded with family members in the home.” That included seven children ages 2 to 15. Evans declined to say which resident called. Arriving officers “spent quite a bit of time” negotiating with the suspect, he said.

At some point – he declined to specify when – the suspect opened fire, killing Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and Adam Finseth, 40, a firefighter and paramedic who was assigned to the city’s SWAT team. Another officer, Sgt. Adam Medlicott, survived with injuries that were not life-threatening. He was released from a hospital and was recovering at home Monday, the city said.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday that Elmstrand, Ruge and Finseth died of gunshot wounds in the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis shortly after 6:30 a.m. Sunday. A procession of emergency vehicles escorted Finseth’s body from the medical examiner’s office in Minnetonka to a funeral home in Jordan on Monday afternoon, passing under several bridges where firefighters stood on their parked engines and flew American flags in tribute.

Elmstrand’s wife, Cindy Elmstrand-Castruita, told WCCO-TV: “He had to do what he thought was right to protect those little lives even if it meant putting his at risk and it breaks my heart because now he’s gone. But I know that he thought what he did was right.”

Elmstrand joined the police department in 2017, and was a member of its mobile command staff. Ruge, hired in 2020, was on the department’s crisis negotiations team and was a physical evidence officer. Finseth, who had been with the fire department since 2019, was shot while aiding the first officer who was injured, Evans said. Medlicott, who joined the police department in 2014, supervises community service officers and is a drug recognition expert.

“Several officers” returned fire during the exchange, Evans said. The man fired from multiple places on both floors of the home. At least one officer was shot inside. An armored SWAT team vehicle sustained bullet damage to its windshield.

Evans said the suspect was armed with “several guns and large amounts of ammunition,” though he declined to provide details. He said there “have not been many calls for service at all” to the home or involving the suspect previously.

Neighbors were startled awake by loud pops about an hour before sunrise. Alicia McCullum, who lives two houses down from the source of the commotion, told The Associated Press she and her family dropped to the floor.

“I didn’t think it was a gunshot at first, but then we opened the windows and we saw police everywhere and police hiding in our neighbors’ yards,” McCullum said. “Then there were three more gunshots.”

The suspect was “reported to be deceased in the home” around 8 a.m., Evans said, and the children and other family members were later able to escape. McCullum said she saw a woman and a few children escorted out of the home.

The superintendent declined to say how long officers negotiated with the suspect, but the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association said the standoff lasted four hours before the SWAT team entered the home. Evans also declined to say whether the suspect killed himself or was shot by police. He said the medical examiner would determine that, and that autopsies were planned for Monday.

Investigators plan to review body camera and other videos of the incident, conduct interviews and gather all available evidence as they determine what happened, he said.

“I know everybody wants to know exactly what occurred and really what led up to these really terrible events that occurred today,” Evans told reporters. “But I ask that you have patience as we work though that to piece together everything that we can to provide the answers in due time.”

___

Associated Press reporter Jack Dura contributed to this story from Bismarck, North Dakota.

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