Kan. officer shot; bullet deflected by mic

By Stan Finger Hurst Laviana and Tim Potter
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA — A police officer was struck by a gunshot in downtown Wichita today, and police closed down a two-block radius in the search for the shooter.

Police reopened the streets before 5 p.m.

Deputy Chief Robert Lee said the bullet struck the lapel microphone in the center of the officer's chest at 1:40 p.m. as he turned the corner in an alley near Wichita Area Technical College's central campus, 324 N. Emporia.

The bullet was deflected by the 2 1/2 -inch-by-2 1/2 -inch microphone of the officer's hand-held radio, Lee said.

"The officer was shaken but received no injuries," he said. "Anytime you're struck in the chest, I'd say that's a very close call."

Lee said the officer was off-duty and working as a uniformed security guard at the college when the shot was fired. He said he didn't know if the shot came from the ground or a nearby building.

"We're not ruling out any possibility at this point," he said.

He said investigators were reviewing security tapes from the college. He urged anyone with information about the shooting to call detectives at 316-268-4181, Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111 or 911.

"Obviously we consider this person an extreme danger," Lee said. "I'd say that's an attempt by someone to try and kill a police officer.

"This is an individual we need to get in custody right away."

Authorities closed off streets in a two-block radius from where the shooting occurred, from First to Third and from St. Francis to Topeka.

Classes at the central campus of Wichita Area Technical College have been called off for tonight, WATC president Peter Gustaf said.

At the time of the shooting, there were about 100 students and 15 to 20 staff members at the central campus. Within four minutes, they had gathered in the auditorium for lockdown, Gustaf said.

The students were "concerned for the police officer's well-being, because they all know him," Gustaf said.

When student Rebecca Lowe heard all the sirens, she said she thought there had been a car accident nearby. Then, when they heard an officer had been shot, she wondered whether someone was attacking the school.

"We were kind of scared," said Lowe, 23, who is taking classes to be a certified nurse's assistant.

Students at the college have been allowed to leave, but if their vehicles are parked in the area cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape they cannot use them, said Helen Thomas, chief marketing officer for the college.

Officers in bullet-proof vests and carrying shotguns and rifles searched the Shirkmere Hotel, other buildings in the area, and cars in area parking lots.

Officers, their handguns drawn, were lifted by a fire department ladder truck onto the roof of the Samaritan Center, 334 N. Topeka, and the roof of another building at Second and Emporia.

One officer carried what appeared to be an assault rifle.

There were no reports of hostages.

The First United Methodist Church at 330 N. Broadway locked down its campus as a precaution, said church spokesman Kirk Longhofer.

Maria Ortiz, who lives in an apartment near the technical college, said officers knocked on her door and asked whether she saw or heard anything. She said she didn't.

Ortiz said she was shaken by the incident.

"Somebody, to do that, must be out of their head," she said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol and the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office are assisting.

Copyright 2008 The Wichita Eagle

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