MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A man suspected in a downtown Memphis shooting that left three people injured fled in a stolen vehicle that fatally struck a police officer, police said Sunday.
Justine Welch, 21, faces multiple charges that include first-degree murder, vehicular homicide, attempted first-degree murder, evading arrest and theft of property over $10,000, police spokeswoman Sgt. Karen Rudolph said in a news release. The release did not disclose Welch’s hometown.
Welch was being held at the Shelby County Jail. Jail records didn’t indicate whether Welch has an attorney.
Officer Verdell Smith, 46, was pronounced dead from his injuries at 10:43 p.m. Saturday, Memphis Police Department Director Mike Rallings said during a news conference.
Police said two people were taken to the hospital after being shot at about 10 p.m. Saturday by the suspect, who then ran to a retail complex and shot a male employee.
Memphis police spokeswoman Sgt. Karen Rudolph said Sunday the 21-year old employee has been released from a hospital, while the other two victims, ages 39 and 57, remained in critical condition. Their names weren’t released.
Police said the suspect then fled in a vehicle and later struck Smith, who had been working with other officers to clear the area. The suspect then fled briefly on foot but was apprehended by police and taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Rudolph said the vehicle driven by the suspect was reported stolen earlier in the day. She said four incident reports were filed by police due to the multiple locations, and an investigation is ongoing.
“Due to the magnitude of these incidents, it will take time to go through all the details,” Rudolph said.
Rallings said Smith was an 18-year police veteran who is survived by a father, fiance, son and two daughters.
“He’s a man’s man and he was an officer’s officer. He was definitely a great father,” Rallings said. “Like I said, he loved his son_always talked about him, always had him with him. I think his son is taking it really, really hard. He had two daughters as well.”
Rallings said the department mourned the loss not just of Smith but of other officers killed in the line of duty, including Officers Sean Bolton in 2015 and Martoiya Lang in 2012. In addition, off-duty Memphis officer Terence Olridge was fatally shot last October.
“Each one of them have their own characteristics that they bring to this job . When called to do the job that they’ve been asked to do — each and every one of these individuals has done that.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland posted a message of remorse and anger on his on his Facebook page.
“My family joins all of Memphis in mourning the loss of Officer Verdell Smith, who gave his life in service to our city,” Strickland’s post read. “I call on every Memphian to remember Officer Smith’s family in prayer and reflection today and in the coming days — and to be grateful for the dangerous, important work our men and women of MPD perform every day.
“I am angry this morning — angry at the senseless loss of a dedicated public servant, and angry at the absolutely unacceptable level of violence in our city. We must not accept this as our norm. I most certainly will not, and I will continue to act to make our city safer.”