By Stephanie Rebman
TUPELO – Law enforcement didn’t take a break on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day from searching for those involved in a Monday bank robbery and shooting of two Tupelo police officers.
Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer, 38, was killed, and Officer Joseph Maher, 27, was injured and is slowly recovering at North Mississippi Medical Center, according to Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre. They were shot Monday around 3:15 p.m. after an armed robbery at the BancorpSouth branch at 430 S. Gloster St. The shooting took place near Crosstown while traffic was halted for a train.
On Tuesday, various agencies including the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation were at 515 Baker St. in New Albany interviewing a resident and checking out his car, which were of interest in the case. According to the New Albany police chief and Union County sheriff, the man was cleared after being interviewed.
On Wednesday, Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Ray Hall said there is not a suspect yet, but police in the region were chasing down leads and talking to people of interest, including one person of interest whose picture was released Tuesday night from convenience store surveillance.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said billboards were made and will be posted in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas to get the word and photos out and asked the public not rely on social media for their news.
“We thank everyone for support and prayers,” he said. “We are asking that because of social networking that any information that is obtained by any source other than that of officials working this case to be considered nonreliable. Please use caution if posting information due to the safety of the officers that are still working to apprehend the person or persons responsible.”
The reward money for information in the case has reached $152,500. Contributing to the reward are the FBI with $50,000, BancorpSouth with $50,000, Regions Bank with $7,500, Trustmark with $5,000, U.S. Marshals Office with $10,000, Renasant Bank with $25,000 and McDonald’s of North Mississippi with $5,000.
BancorpSouth also on Tuesday established a special memorial account for the wife and children of Stauffer and an account to benefit Maher. Contributions may be made at any local BancorpSouth branch. BancorpSouth committed to match contributions up to $10,000 for each officer’s account. The Community Development Foundation committed $5,000 to each account.
Residents are also rising to the occasion to support the families. The GumTree Museum of Art is donating proceeds from its New Year’s Eve fundraiser to the families. Also, Heather Summerlin is raising money for the family at https://fundly.com/stauffer-family-fundraiser#_. As of Wednesday night, 120 supporters had generated $5,410 for the Stauffer family.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said the community coming together has been amazing to see and hopes everyone continues to rally around the families.
“It’s one of those calls and tragedies you fear the worst in this position, but it has been absolutely amazing to see the togetherness of this community and the solidarity of law enforcement during this tragic event,” he said. “I just would continue to ask for the support and prayers of the community for Sergeant Gale Stauffer’s family, Officer Joseph Maher’s family and our law enforcement agencies.”
A service celebrating Stauffer’s life will be at 11 a.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the church.