June 9, 2014 - 11:03 pm
(Clarification: This story has been modified to change the reference to the bystander who was killed inside Wal-Mart on Sunday. The victim was a man.)
Two Las Vegas police officers were killed Sunday in what appears to be a politically motivated ambush in a pizza restaurant that spilled over to a nearby Wal-Mart, where the two shooters committed suicide after killing a man in the store.
Details are sketchy, but Metropolitan Police Department sources close to the investigation say the shooters shouted that “this is the start of a revolution” before opening fire on the officers, and draped their bodies with cloth showing a Revolutionary War-era flag. Investigators have also found paraphernalia associated with white supremacists.
Sunday night, Metro homicide investigators and FBI agents cordoned off and were searching a small apartment complex at 110 S. Bruce St., about four miles from the shooting scene. A resident of the complex said he had spoken with a man who lived in the apartment being searched. He said the man appeared “militant,” and often talked about conspiracy theories.
An explosion was heard at the apartment complex at about 9:30 p.m., but no information was immediately available Sunday night.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie said officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31, were shot while they ate lunch at CiCi’s Pizza, 309 N. Nellis Blvd., at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. In a late afternoon news conference he said no motive for the attack has been determined.
“It’s a tragic day,” the sheriff said. “We have lost two officers with young families.”
Beck was a senior patrol officer who had taught Advanced Officer Skills Training and at the Metro academy. He was hired by Metro in 2001 and had a wife and three children.
Soldo has been a Metro officer since 2006 and had a wife and baby. Both were uniform patrol officers assigned to the Northeast Area Command.
A law enforcement official who has been briefed on the incident said an officer — unconfirmed reports indicate it was Soldo — was refilling a soft drink when the female shooter approached him from behind and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.
The woman then shot the other officer several times as he drew his pistol. Gillespie said the officer was able to return fire but it was unclear if he hit anyone.
One officer was reported dead at the scene, while the other died later in surgery at University Medical Center.
Witnesses told police one of the shooters yelled “This is the start of a revolution” before shooting the officers. Gillespie later said he could not confirm that.
The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.”
The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden a Revolutionary War general who designed it. It has recently come back in vogue as an adopted symbol of the American tea party movement.
The shooters left the pizza parlor and headed into the Wal-Mart across the street at 201 North Nellis. Witnesses at the scene reported hearing shots fired in quick succession inside the Wal-Mart.
At a news conference at about 1 p.m. Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the male shooter, described as a tall white man, yelled “everyone get out” before shooting.
One unconfirmed report is that the two exchanged gunfire with a citizen who was carrying a concealed weapon, and that one of the shooters was injured.
A man was shot and killed just inside the front doors of the Wal-Mart. His name has not yet been released.
As Metro officers entered the front and back doors of the store they exchanged gunfire with the shooters, Gillespie said.
The female shooter then shot her accomplice at least once before shooting herself in the head, a law enforcement official said. The wounded man then shot and killed himself. Their identities have not been released by police.
Both shooters were reportedly carrying large duffle bags, and a bomb squad was called to the scene. It’s unclear what, if anything, was found in the bags. A fire department official said the bomb squad response was “a precaution.”
Hector Garcia was shopping in Wal-Mart’s arts and crafts aisle toward the back of the store when he encountered a man brandishing a gun. He looked like he was in his 20s, was wearing camouflage and had a duffle bag draped over his shoulder.
He said the shooter appeared calm when he pointed the gun at him and said, “Don’t run.” The gunman, Garcia said, continued walking to the back of the store. Garcia said that store employees were evacuating customers through the back of the store.
After the gunman walked out of sight, Garcia walked out of the store. Garcia said he was shaken up and couldn’t remember what kind of gun the man carried.
The shooters were a married couple thought to be in their late 20s who were new to the Las Vegas Valley, according to a law enforcement official close to the investigation. Police are looking into their links to the white supremacy movement and found swastika symbols during their initial investigation.
Residents of the Bruce Street apartment complex gathered outside the building to talk about the couple whose unit was being searched.
Several neighbors identified the man as Jared, while one called the woman Amanda.
Like many of the neighbors contacted, Krista Koch said she didn’t know the couple’s last names. She described them as “militant.” They talked about planning to kill police officers, “going underground” and not coming out until the time was right to kill.
Brandon Monroe, 22, has lived in the complex for about two weeks. He said the man who lived in the apartment that was being searched often rambled about conspiracy theories. He often wore camouflage or dressed as Peter Pan to work as a Fremont Street Experience street performer. A woman lived with him, Monroe said, but he didn’t see her as often.
They were weird people, Monroe said, adding that he thought the couple used methamphetamine.
The man told neighbor Jessica Anderson, 27, that he had been kicked off Cliven Bundy’s ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas while people from throughout the U.S. gathered there in protest of a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy’s cattle.
Reached Sunday, the rancher’s wife, Carol Bundy, said the shooting and the April standoff against the federal government were not linked.
“I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone,” Carol Bundy said.
Las Vegas police have not said whether they believe the attack was more than an isolated incident, but the department asked for any available off-duty officers to work Sunday afternoon.
Patrol squads were doubling up so each officer would have a partner, sources said. Metro officers usually patrol solo, but Gillespie said they would continue to ride with partners in the coming days while the investigation continues.
“It’s a very, very difficult day,” Gillespie said, “but we still have a community to police, and we still have a community to protect.”
FBI officials would say little about their involvement in the investigation.
“We will not comment on specifics at this time,” FBI spokeswoman Bridget Pappas said. “The FBI is working closely with LVMPD and our law enforcement partners to determine the facts of this tragic incident.”
A WAR ZONE
Late into the afternoon dozens of bystanders were standing outside police tape, watching the investigation. Wal-Mart employees and shoppers cried and hugged before police took them to be interviewed in a nearby store. After talking with witnesses, officers took them to one of several buses waiting in the parking lot.
A grandmother who was shopping in Wal-Mart with her two teenage granddaughters said they crouched in a makeup aisle when they heard shots. She prayed out loud, but the girls asked her to keep quiet so the shooters wouldn’t find them.
When they peeked around the aisle and couldn’t see the shooters, they ran out of the store.
Marlene Buck works at the Denny’s on Nellis across from Wal-Mart. She said she was impressed with Metro’s quick response.
“It took less than fifteen minutes,” she said.
As police patrol cars cordoned off the street, Buck said restaurant customers crowded against the windows and started to rush outside.
“I did everything I could to keep everyone inside,” she said, adding it looked like a war zone and making a machine-gun gesture with her hands.
Reporters Francis McCabe, Mike Blasky, Wesley Juhl, Annalise Porter, Ricardo Torres, Keith Rogers and Jeff German and photographer Erik Verduzco contributed to this report.