Baton Rouge: Specialised robot used to check for explosives near suspect's body

Baton Rouge police officers patrol Airline Highway after 3 police officers were killed. (Sean Gardner, AFP)
Baton Rouge police officers patrol Airline Highway after 3 police officers were killed. (Sean Gardner, AFP)

Baton Rouge - Three law enforcement officers were killed and three others wounded on Sunday morning in a shooting near a gas station in Baton Rouge, less than two weeks after a black man was shot and killed by police here, sparking nightly protests across the city.

One suspect in the shooting was killed and law enforcement officials believe two others might still be at large, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokesperson for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. The city was on high alert, officials said.

The shooting, just before 09:00 and 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 suspects and the officers were not immediately known.

Governor John Bel Edwards rushed to the hospital where the shot officers were taken.

"Rest assured, every resource available to the State of Louisiana will be used to ensure the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice," Edwards said in a statement.

The shooting took place at a gas station near a fitness centre on Airline Highway, Baton Rouge Police's L'Jean Mckneely jnr said. The slain shooter's body was next door, outside a fitness centre. Police said they were using a specialised robot to check for explosives near the body.

On Sunday afternoon, more than a dozen police cars with lights flashing were massed near a commercial area of car dealerships and chain restaurants 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.

That area was about 400m from a fuel station where almost nightly protests had been taking place against the recent police shooting.

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 spokesperson Ashley Mendoza said five patients from the police shooting, all "law enforcement professionals" had been taken. A police officer with a rifle was blocking the parking lot at the emergency room. Of the two who survived the shooting, one is in critical condition and the other is in fair condition.

Police-community relations tense

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

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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