MOSCOW, Idaho – The community is reeling after a Saturday night ambush that left three dead and two injured in what is being called the worst shooting in the city’s history.
An unidentified gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon in this quiet college town, killing a police officer and a church sexton, and wounding a Good Samaritan and another officer. He then apparently killed himself in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church.
“It’s a terrifically sad day for our community,” said Mayor Nancy Chaney. “Our hearts go out to the friends, family and colleagues of the victims.”
Within hours of the tragedy, an impromptu memorial had formed at the barricades near the church, with flowers and notes mourning the death of the officer and church caretaker
“Moscow prays for its fallen and their loved ones,” read one note propped in front of a vase of lilacs.
“RIP Officer Newbill. Moscow can never repay your service,” said another.
Moscow Police Department Officer Lee Newbill died from multiple gunshot wounds suffered in the attack that began about 11:30 p.m. Saturday outside the Latah County Courthouse. It’s the first time since Moscow became a city in 1899 that one of its police officers has been killed in the line of duty.
At the nearby church, authorities found Paul Bauer, who members of First Presbyterian said served as the caretaker and lived in an on-site apartment, shot to death in an office.
Streets were barricaded and residents told to stay inside as officers rushed to the scene.
Many residents said they heard the gunfire, and some said they witnessed the shooting. Steve Bonnar heard the shots from his home about a block away. From his third-story window, he watched officers descend on the scene in an urgent attempt to stop the bloodshed.
It was a frightening experience, he said. “We locked the doors and stayed inside. Nervous system overload is the best way to describe the feeling.”
Laura Garrett was near tears as she described the long night. Garrett said she knew Newbill and was saddened to hear he was a victim.
She also mourned the shooting’s impact on Moscow. “It’s a place where you don’t lock your doors,” she said of the city of about 22,000, which is home to the University of Idaho. UI students graduated a week before the shootings.
No one was injured in the initial onslaught, which sent bullets tearing through a police dispatch center. The attack sent dispatchers and some officers rushing for the safety of the jail, police said. Other officers responded to the scene.
Assistant Police Chief David Duke said the attack was apparently an ambush, with the shooter firing into the courthouse to lure people into the line of fire. It worked.
That’s how Newbill, who was rushing to help, found himself in the sniper’s crosshairs. He was cut down in a burst of automatic gunfire, authorities said, and pronounced dead on arrival at Gritman Medical Center a few blocks away.
A neighbor, described by police as a civilian, ran to help Newbill and was gunned down as well. He was listed Sunday evening in fair condition at the hospital. His identity is being withheld.
Also injured was Brannon Jordan, a Latah County sheriff’s deputy, who tried to help Newbill as well. He was listed in fair condition, and reportedly told a family friend he felt lucky to be alive.
As the wounded lay outside the courthouse, the attacker retreated into nearby First Presbyterian Church, where police heard the last gunshot shortly after 1 a.m.
Officers surrounded the brick structure, nestled in a heavily residential neighborhood near downtown and Moscow High School.
They had hoped to persuade the gunman to come outside, but were never able to make contact with him. No calls were made from inside the church, said Duke.
After talking with church staff about the building’s layout, police moved in shortly before 6 a.m. Three different SWAT teams entered the three-story church and found two bodies on the main floor, Duke said.
Church caretaker Bauer’s body was found in the church office.
The shooter’s body was found in the sanctuary with a gunshot wound to the head, said Duke.
He had not been identified Sunday, and Duke would describe him only as a man in his 20s or 30s. Police do not have a motive and do not believe the shooter had a specific target, Duke said.
“He was just shooting at anybody he could,” he said. “We believe the shots were from a high area, based on where the victims were shot.”
Duke said the victims were all shot with an automatic weapon. Four empty magazines were found in the courthouse parking lot. Authorities say more than 70 bullets were fired.
The shooting happened so quickly that officers were never able to determine the gunman’s precise location and never returned fire, he said.
Duke became emotional as he described Newbill. “Lee Newbill was an open person who was friends with everyone,” Duke said.
The Moscow Police Department has arranged counseling for its officers and family members affected by the shooting.