Two police officers were shot dead by a suspect who later killed himself in a South Texas border town after responding to a domestic disturbance call, authorities said.
McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez identified the dead officers as Edelmiro Garza, 45, and Ismael Chavez, 39. Mr Garza had been with the police department for more than eight years while Mr Chavez had over two years of experience.
“We have lost two brave public servants who sought only to keep peace in our city,” a visibly distraught Mr Rodriguez told The (McAllen) Monitor.
The officers first met two people who reported that assaults had taken place inside a nearby home on the south side of McAllen at around 3.30pm on Saturday, Mr Rodriguez said.
But the alleged gunman, whom police identified as 23-year-old Audon Ignacio Camarillo, opened fire when the officers attempted to enter the home.
“They were doing their job. That is what they were supposed to do. The person was a suspect of the incident, met our officers at the door, and shot at both officers,” Mr Rodriguez said.
“Both officers suffered fatal wounds, they have both passed away as a result. The officers never had a chance to suspect deadly assault on them, much less death.”
Camarillo shot himself shortly after opening fire on the officers, Mr Rodriguez said, adding that the suspect hid behind a vehicle after other officers responded to the scene.
Camarillo had had a few run-ins with police, starting in 2016 to his most recent arrest last month on assault charges, according to public records.
More details surrounding the domestic disturbance Mr Garza and Mr Chavez responded to were not immediately known. Mr Rodriguez said the attack happened suddenly and fellow police officers did not learn of their colleagues’ deaths until arriving in the area moments later.
Mr Rodriguez said: “The next few days for us, moving forward as well, will be very, very difficult, for ourselves at the department and at the city of McAllen, but our strength will get us through.
“We gather our strength from our police officers, and we gather our strengths from our colleagues, as you can see here.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who spoke with Mr Rodriguez, offered the full backing of the state and expressed his support via social media.
“Two of our finest were killed in the line of duty while working to protect residents in their community,” he wrote on Twitter. “We unite to #BackTheBlue.”
Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said DPS was among the agencies assisting McAllen police on Saturday.
He noted that DPS sent troopers to secure the scene after the McAllen Police Department requested their assistance. He said his agency received a call about the incident at around 4.30pm.
McAllen is located at the southern tip of Texas, about 70 miles (113 km) west of the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted that his office will provide the McAllen Police Department with any help needed.
“Our prayers and full support are with the valiant men and women of the #CityofMcAllen PD this evening,” the tweet read. “We are grateful for police in McAllen and around this great state.”
US Representative Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen said in a statement that receiving news of the two officers’ deaths was “devastating”.
“This is devastating news to our community. My heart breaks for these fallen officers and their families,” he said. “They served McAllen bravely and honourably and I will keep them in my prayers.”
Mr Rodriguez said that while the police are “weakened for the moment”, he expects a resilient law enforcement community to stand tall and persevere through it.
“The strength and the resolve we have to serve our communities, all of us here, will allow us to do what we do every day,” he said.
Law enforcement from several cities in Hidalgo County gathered at McAllen Medical on Saturday evening to honour Mr Garza and Mr Chavez.
More than 50 police cars were part of a procession that accompanied the bodies of the officers, which were taken to Hidalgo County pathology for post-mortem examinations.