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N.Y. police chief, sheriff, DA break down ambush that killed two officers

Syracuse-area law enforcement officials said the shooter lured officers to his home, where he sprayed them with bullets from an illegally modified AR-15

By Marnie Eisenstadt, Douglass Dowty

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Christopher Murphy was spoiling for a fight with law enforcement Sunday afternoon.

After spending part of the day drinking with a friend at The End Zone bar in Liverpool Sunday, Murphy drove the friend through Tipp Hill in his gray Honda Civic. At one point, Murphy fled police going nearly 100 mph.

It wasn’t just because Murphy was drunk, the friend told police.

“He was trying to provoke an interaction with police officers,” Syracuse police Chief Joe Cecile told The friend, who police have spoken with but not identified, wanted no part of what was to come and he left.

Two hours later, Murphy got the fight he wanted. The 33-year-old went out onto the porch of his parents’ home in Salina and began unloading about 30 rounds, trying to kill police. The neighborhood of colonial homes with basketball hoops and barbecue grills became the scene of a bloodbath that left two police officers and Murphy dead.

Syracuse police officer Michael Jensen, 29, and Onondaga County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Hoosock, 37, died in the gun battle on Darien Drive.

In the days following the deaths, | The Post-Standard sat down with Cecile, District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and Sheriff Toby Shelley. They offered details not previously released from the preliminary investigation into the double police shooting that has shaken Central New Yorkers.

They say it’s unclear whether Murphy started the day with this plan, or whether it grew with each beer he drank and each line of cocaine he snorted. What is clear from interviews with law enforcement still investigating is that Murphy dropped breadcrumbs that led police from two departments to the house in the suburbs to slaughter them.

When his bait and fate delivered them, he was waiting with an illegally altered Springfield AR -15 that could hold at least 40 rounds and extra ammunition, police said.

Officers were at his house for only minutes, thinking they were going to investigate a traffic violation from Tipp Hill, when Murphy opened fire.

Drunk and speeding

It started at 7:07 p.m. Jensen and his partner had started their routine patrol a little early Sunday night. Jensen, a former accountant, was always eager to work.

He and his partner were near Emerson and Hamilton streets in Tipp Hill when Murphy’s Honda Civic whizzed by.

It’s unclear why Murphy, already drunk, was zipping through the neighborhood. Maybe he was looking for another bar, Cecile said.

Murphy fled at speeds over 100 mph as he raced past the entrance to Destiny USA and toward his home in Salina, police said.

Cecile said Murphy’s friend told police that he was trying to egg on police.

When Murphy got to Hiawatha Boulevard and Solar Street, he was even driving on the wrong side of the road. Twice, police called 911 to say that he was driving erratically but eventually they lost sight of him.

Police say Murphy drove back to his family’s home at 4945 Darien Drive.

His friend was still in the passenger seat, but by this time, he’d had enough.

The friend was frightened by Murphy’s driving and what seemed to be a growing intention to pick a fight with police, Cecile said. He took an Uber home.

Murphy decided to go get another friend. He left his parents’ home again in the Civic and went a few blocks away to pick up childhood pal Shawn Kinsella, who is now cooperating with authorities, they say. The two returned to the Darien Drive home and snorted cocaine until dark, Fitzpatrick said.

Tracking Murphy

Jensen was still hunting for the fleeing driver. A license plate reader in the city caught Murphy’s plate number. Jensen ran the plate and it came up registered to Murphy at his parents’ home.

Jensen called for help from the sheriff’s office before heading out to the suburban home because it’s outside of the city.

Tracking down a fleeing car like Murphy’s is routine policework that happens every day in Syracuse, Cecile said. If Jensen had a more important call that night, he might never have gone out to Murphy’s house.

But Jensen, who left his desk job to follow his dream of being a cop, followed the lead to the very end.

When the call went out to the sheriff’s office, Hoosock was working as the watch commander – the guy in charge. It’s not a call someone in his job would usually take, but “Hootch” was a cop who always wanted to help, Shelley said. And when he went, the deputies who worked for him showed up, too. If the boss is there, they should be, too.

Hoosock got there first, followed by the deputies, Jensen and his partner, and another car from Syracuse police. Hootch radioed in that he saw the car in the driveway and waited for Jensen to arrive.

It was around 8:40 p.m.

The ambush

Jensen and his partner shined their flashlights in the back seat of that Honda Civic, authorities said. There, they saw trouble: two illegal clips for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Some details about Murphy and his gun are still unclear.

Cecile said police had some information that made them concerned about the possibility of a gun at Murphy’s house. He said he does not know yet if police or anyone else saw the illegal gun clips in his car before they went to his house.

But the officers always bring a backup unit if they can. In this case, there was a city backup and then two more cars from the sheriff’s office.

Seconds after Jensen saw the ammo in the back seat, Murphy took action.

On the quiet street, the officers heard the unmistakable sound of a bullet snapping into place in an AR-15.

It was clear this was no routine call now. An officer radioed to 911 for help:

“Sounds like we got somebody racking a firearm here,” a dispatcher repeated over the air. “Over on Darien. Start a couple more cars, please.”

The seven officers quietly surrounded the property, taking cover where they could find it. Hoosock went into the next-door neighbor’s backyard and took cover behind a narrow maple tree. The two other deputies went to the other side of Murphy’s backyard.

The four Syracuse police officers stayed out front, taking cover behind their cars and trees across the street.

Inside, Murphy made it clear to Kinsella that he was going to shoot the police officers who had surrounded the house, Fitzpatrick said. For the second time in as many hours, a friend of Murphy’s bolted on him.

“Kinsella wants no part of this. He takes off,” Shelley said. “He’s trying to get over the fence.”

Kinsella, who grew up a few streets away, ran out into the yard and tried to climb over the stockade fence. He did not make it. The two deputies who were tucked behind an addition on the house next to the deck grabbed him.

From his cover behind the maple tree, Hoosock quickly flashed his light to let the other deputies see where he was.

Murphy, who stood 6 feet tall, stormed out on the backyard deck and saw the light. Without a word, he began to fire, Shelley said.

He stood 40 feet away from that tree; his rounds splintered the tree trunk.

That little tree protected Hoosock from the first volley, but then Murphy shifted his position on the deck and Hoosock was no longer hidden. Murphy hit Hoosock before he could get off a shot. Murphy could fire that AR-15 as fast as he could pull the trigger. The gun automatically reloads.

The four Syracuse officers in the front yard dived for cover. Two hid across the street, one behind a pine tree and another behind a small pine shrub.

Jensen and the fourth officer ducked behind their police cars.

Murphy ran from around the side of the garage, heading at them with his gun. The officers yelled at him: Drop the weapon and get on the ground.

But Murphy kept running toward them and shooting, still saying nothing, Cecile said.

Then Murphy was in the street. He fired in Jensen’s direction. Jensen and his fellow officers returned fire in a 9-second hail of bullets that could be heard blocks away.

But Jensen was mortally wounded and fell behind his car.

Murphy collapsed in the street, hit by multiple rounds of return fire from Jensen and his fellow city officers.

“We’ve got an officer down!” a 911 dispatcher calls out at 8:51 p.m.

The three Syracuse police officers and two deputies split up to get their dying colleagues away from the house. They couldn’t know if there were more shooters.

The deputies loaded Hoosock into his car and drove him around the block to a neighbor’s yard. Other officers did the same with Jensen. They tried to save the men’s lives on the lawn while they waited for the ambulances.

But no one could save them.

A festering grudge

Three days later, it’s still so hard to understand.

Murphy’s only police record is a DWI from a decade ago. From that stop, he was also charged with resisting arrest. But it was a first-time offense that was pleaded down to a lesser charge. The officer who arrested him had no recollection of it because it was so routine, Shelley said. There is no known record of anything since then.

Police, though, have heard from people who knew Murphy that the arrest sowed a dislike of police that had been festering for years, Cecile said.

On Wednesday, the backyard was taped off where Hootch, a father of three who would help anyone anytime, died as Murphy shot more than a dozen rounds into that thin maple tree.

Next to the driveway where Murphy once played with his siblings, deputies mourning the loss of their friend picked through the early spring grass with shovels and metal detectors.

They were still trying to count all of the shots.

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