3 officers dead in Baton Rouge shooting

2016-07-17 18:58
Baton Rouge police block Airline Highway after police were shot in the Louisiana city. (Max Becherer, AP)

Baton Rouge police block Airline Highway after police were shot in the Louisiana city. (Max Becherer, AP)

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Baton Rouge - Three officers are confirmed dead and three others wounded after a shooting in Baton Rouge, a sheriff's office spokesperson said on Sunday.

One suspect was dead and law enforcement officials believe two others are still at large, she added. 

Casey Rayborn Hicks, for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, said in a statement that the public should call 911 immediately if they see anything suspicious.

The shooting, which happened just before 09:00, about 1.6km from police headquarters, comes amid spiralling tensions across the city - and the country - between the black community and police. The races of the suspect or suspects and the officers were not immediately known.

Baton Rouge Police Sergeant Don Coppola told The Associated Press earlier that the officers were rushed to a local hospital. Coppola said authorities are asking people to stay away from the area.

Multiple police units were stationed at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Centre, where stricken officers were believed to be undergoing treatment at a trauma centre. A police officer with a rifle was blocking the parking lot at the emergency room.

Officers and deputies from the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office were involved, according to Hicks.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw police vehicles with lights flashing massed about a kilometre from the police headquarters on Airline Highway. Police armed with rifles on the road stopped at least two vehicles driving away from the scene and checked their trunks and vehicles before allowing them to drive away.

Police-community relations in Baton Rouge have been especially tense since the killing of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black man killed by white officers earlier this month after a scuffle at a convenience store. The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet.

It was followed a day later by the shooting death of another black man in Minnesota, whose girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath of his death on Facebook. Then on Thursday, a black gunman in Dallas opened fire on police at a protest about the police shootings, killing five officers and heightening tensions even further.

Over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets in Baton Rouge to condemn Sterling's death, including hundreds of demonstrators who congregated outside the police station. Authorities arrested about 200 people over the three-day weekend.

Michelle Rogers, 56, said the pastor at her church had led prayers on Sunday for Sterling's family and police officers, asking members of the congregation to stand up if they knew an officer.

Rogers said an officer in the congregation hastily left the church near the end of the service, and a pastor announced that "something had happened".

"But he didn't say what. Then we started getting texts about officers down," she said.

Rogers and her husband drove near the scene, but were blocked at an intersection closed down by police.

"I can't explain what brought us here," she said. "We just said a prayer in the car for the families."

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