Two police officers were shot during a protest outside Ferguson, Missouri police headquarters early on Thursday, police said, just hours after the city's police chief quit following a damning U.S. Justice Department report into his force.
The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has been at the center of a renewed national debate over police use of force, particularly against black men, since a white officer killed an unarmed black teenager there in August.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters early on Thursday that a 41-year-old officer from his department was struck in the shoulder and a 32-year-old officer from the nearby Webster Groves Police Department was hit in the face around midnight as the crowd was starting to break up.
The suspect or suspects in this shooting are still at large.
"Two St. Louis area police officers were shot while in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting happened just after midnight.
"One St. Louis County Police officer and one Webster Groves officer sustained non-life threatening injuries.
"The St. Louis County officer is 41 years old and a 14 year veteran of law enforcement. He was shot in the shoulder.
"The Webster Groves officer is 32 years old and a 7 year veteran. He was shot in the face. Both officers are in serious condition.
"Anyone with information about the shooting should contact CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477(TIPS)," the St. Louis County Police Department said in a statement.
"These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers.
"But I have said all along that we cannot sustain this forever without problems. That's not an indictment on everybody that's out there, certainly expressing their First Amendment rights. But we have seen, in law enforcement, that this is a very, very, very dangerous environment for the officers to work in.
"I don't know who did the shooting to be honest with you right now, but somehow they were embedded in that group of folks," Belmar said.
"The shooter was not with the protesters. The shooter was atop the hill.
"I was here. I saw the officer fall. The shot came from at least 500 feet away from the officers," activist DeRay McKesson said.
"I saw the officer go down and the other police officers drew their guns while other officers dragged the injured officer away. All of a sudden everybody started running or dropping to the ground," 20 year old protestor Marciay Pitchford said.
"All of a sudden, I heard at least four or five shots ring out. It took me at least 30 seconds of watching before I realized there was an officer down.
"We are not there to shoot cops; we don't like violence. So we did what anybody would do -- we ran away," Markus Loehrer said.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement concerning the latest violence in Ferguson.
“This heinous assault on two brave law enforcement officers was inexcusable and repugnant. I condemn violence against any public safety officials in the strongest terms, and the Department of Justice will never accept any threats or violence directed at those who serve and protect our communities—from this cowardly action, to the killing of an officer in Philadelphia last week while he was buying a game for his son, to the tragic loss of a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the line of duty in Louisiana earlier this week.
"Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards for the past several months.
"We wish these injured officers a full and speedy recovery. We stand ready to offer any possible aid to an investigation into this incident, including the department’s full range of investigative resources. And we will continue to stand unequivocally against all acts of violence against cops whenever and wherever they occur," Holder said.