Four police officers were shot dead in an execution-style ambush at a coffee shop near a US air force base in Washington state, police said.
Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer said the victims were sitting at a table in the cafe before their shift when a lone gunman entered and started shooting at around 8:15 am (1615 GMT) local time.
"We have somebody out there who blatantly went in and opened fire on four police officers, killing all four of them," Troyer said following the shooting near McChord Air Force base in Tacoma, south of Seattle.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released although later Sunday police said three men and one woman officer had been killed. All the victims were wearing uniforms, including bulletproof vests.
|Four police officers were shot dead in an execution-style ambush at a coffee shop near a US air force base in Washington state, police said.|
Troyer said the officers, from nearby Lakewood Police Department, had been specifically targeted, noting that staff and customers at the coffee shop had not been shot at.
"It was definitely an ambush target situation, there were two baristas and some other customers in there. None of them were hurt or shot at or aimed at," Troyer said.
"This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers."
The suspected gunman was described as a "black male in his 20s or 30s" Troyer told reporters. "He walked in with a handgun, opened fire multiple times and fled the scene," he said.
The gunman was described as scruffy-looking and fled on foot after the attack, possibly with another man, he said.
Troyer later told King 5 local television that one of the mortally wounded officers may have traded fire with the gunman.
"There is evidence that a Lakewood Police officer fired off some shots and we hope that he hit him," Troyer said. "If he's hit, that means that he's injured somewhere with a gunshot wound."
Troyer said local hospitals had been alerted in case the suspect sought medical attention.
Police set up tiplines and offered a 10,000-dollar reward for anyone with information about those responsible for the shooting.
Around 200 officers from different law enforcement agencies were involved in the hunt for the shooting suspect late Sunday, police said.
"We have no motive at all," Troyer told King 5. "I don't think when we find out what it is, it will be anything that makes any sense or be worth it."
Local media reports said police had been tackling street gangs in the area recently but Troyer appeared to discount a suggestion that the killing could have been part of an initiation test.
"For a gang member to do something like this would be way out of the box," Troyer said. "Gangs wouldn't be happy about this because it would bring attention to them that they don't want. That's not the direction we're going."
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire voiced his shock at the shootings, which local media said was the worst single loss of life involving law enforcement officers in state history.
"I am shocked and horrified at the murder of four police officers this morning in Pierce County," Gregoire said.
"Our police put their lives on the line every day, and tragedies like this remind us of the risks they continually take to keep our communities safe."