Two Iowa police officers were shot and killed Wednesday while sitting in their patrol cars in what police called unprovoked ambushes, and a 46-year-old suspect was captured hours later, officials said.
The man, Scott Michael Greene, was taken into custody in the killings in the Iowa capital Des Moines and its affluent suburb Urbandale, a police spokeswoman said. Police said it was unclear what provoked the attacks.
The shootings represented the latest attacks on police in the United States during a time of intense public debate over race and the criminal justice system in America.
Greene is white, as were both officers involved in the shooting, police said. The gunman appeared to act alone, Des Moines police spokesman Paul Parizek told a news conference.
“There’s nothing to indicate right now that there was anyone else involved,” Parizek said.
Police said they found the first slain officer’s body at about 1:06 a.m. in Urbandale, and the second about 20 minutes later about two miles (3 km) away in Des Moines.
The slain officers were identified as Sergeant Anthony Beminio of the Des Moines Police Department and Officer Justin Martin of the Urbandale Police Department.
A police cruiser at the site of the Des Moines shooting could be seen riddled with three bullet holes.
“These officers were ambushed,” Parizek said.
Greene has not yet been charged. It appeared the suspect had a recent run-in with police.
A 10-minute video posted on YouTube last month by a user calling himself Scott Greene showed an interaction with officers following an incident at a high school stadium in which he described holding up a Confederate battle flag during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at a football game.
Reuters was unable to immediately confirm whether the video was made by the suspect, whose face does not appear in it. It records a male voice arguing with police over the incident.
The man is heard complaining to police that “African-American people” took the flag from him in the stands, “assaulted” him, and saying he wanted to press charges.
Police officers shown in the video said he was removed from the stadium because he caused a disturbance in the stands. The Confederate flag is a racially charged symbol for its association with the pro-slavery South in the U.S. Civil War.
“You have to understand, in the current social climate that we’re in, when you fly the Confederate flag standing in front of several African-American people, that’s going to cause a disturbance, OK, whether you intended to or not,” a female officer is heard telling the man.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urged Americans to avoid jumping to conclusions about the shooter’s motive.
“This is a time of particular tension and mistrust between law enforcement and many communities,” Lynch said at an event for veterans at the Justice Department in Washington. “There is no message in murder. Violence creates nothing. It only destroys.”
Before the shootings in Iowa, 50 police officers had died by gunfire, two accidentally, in the line of duty in the United States this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website.