TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man with a history of theft and weapons convictions gunned down two police officers investigating possible drug activity in a Kansas grocery parking lot, and was later killed after an armed standoff, authorities said Monday.
Hundreds gathered outside Topeka police headquarters with candles in memory of Cpl. David Gogian and Officer Jeff Atherly. Members of the slain officers’ families attended Monday night’s vigil along with dozens of law enforcement officers in uniforms.
“You never really think you’re going to lose friends. Everybody, I think, is still in shock,” said Officer Kurtis VanDonge, a 31-year-old Army veteran who was in Atherly’s training class and worked under Gogian.
A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” and a minister read from the opening chapter of the Gospel of John that includes the verse: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The man who opened fire on the officers Sunday night was David Edward Tiscareno, 22, of Topeka, said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones said Tiscareno was seated behind the driver’s seat of a car stopped in the parking lot of a Topeka grocery store when police ordered the occupants to get out. After shooting two of the three responding officers, Tiscareno got back into the car and drove from the scene. The third officer returned fire, Jones said.
“There were people inside the store,” Jones said during a news conference earlier Monday. “There were residents who saw this going on. There were people driving. There was a multitude of witnesses there.”
Gogian, 50, and Atherly, 29, were shot in the head, according to authorities.
Based on a tip, law enforcement officers found Tiscareno holed up early Monday at a house about a mile away. When negotiations broke down, Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents fired tear gas inside. Tiscareno then emerged from the home with a gun and officers opened fire, according to the Shawnee County sheriff’s office, which is leading the investigation.
Smith said investigators believe Tiscareno fired a single shot outside the home before authorities returned fire. Tiscareno was declared dead at a hospital.
Police Chief Ronald Miller said the 280 officers on his Topeka force are “numb.” The shootings in the Kansas capital followed last week’s massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Closer to Topeka, earlier this month, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then drove to the team’s practice site and committed suicide.
“There’s a lot of people in this country that are grieving some of the things that have happened over the last several days, and we’re just counted among that group,” Miller said.
Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt participated in the vigil. Miller called Gogian and Atherly “first-rate police officers” and added: “We can’t make sense of what has happened.”
Online court records show Tiscareno was charged in September 2008 with one count of theft of less than $1,000. He pleaded no contest in April 2009 and was sentenced to 12 months of supervised probation. His probation was revoked in January 2010.
In March 2011, he was charged with criminal use of weapons and was sentenced that September to 12 months of unsupervised probation, also after pleading no contest. A notation in court records available online said, “This defendant should be advised against carrying a firearm.”
Court records also show that in February 2011, Tiscareno was evicted from an east Topeka apartment for failing to pay the rent and that a local hospital sued him for failing to pay almost $9,100 in bills.
Jones said he wasn’t sure whether there was a drug deal or drug use going on in the store parking lot; the person who called authorities reported drug activity.
VanDonge said the officers’ deaths were a shock because a situation like the one they were in wouldn’t typically result in violence.
The third officer at the scene was not hurt and has been placed on administrative leave with pay, which is standard procedure when an officer is involved in a shooting, authorities said.
The other people who were in the car when the shootings happened have been questioned. Authorities would not say whether they might face charges.
Miller said he had hoped that Tiscareno would be arrested so that he could stand trial.
“One of the things that concerns me is that we don’t really know why he did what he did,” Miller said.
The last time a Topeka officer was killed in the line of duty was 2000, and it’s been longer than that — since 1995 — that one was fatally shot on the job.
Gogian had been a Topeka police officer since September 2004 and had an adult son who’s also a Topeka officer. Atherly joined the department in April 2011.
Gogian was a retired Kansas Air National Guard sergeant and a former Marine Corp reservist. A biography prepared for his retirement and released by guard officials said Gogian and his wife had four children.
Janet Rice, who works in the Topeka schools’ business office, said Atherly was patient and kind. She’s a volunteer ambassador for the department and rode a shift with Atherly in May, after graduating from a 13-week citizens’ course on policing.
“He was always polite, even though there were people calling him all kinds of bad names,” Rice recalled after the vigil. “This is a huge loss.”
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