By Robbie Ward and Dennis Seid
TUPELO – A Tupelo police officer was shot and killed and a second is in critical condition after they responded to a bank robbery on Monday afternoon.
Authorities confirmed Kevin “Gale” Stauffer, 38, was killed, and a 26-year-old officer was injured. The injured officer’s name has not yet been released.
“We are hurting; we are hurting very bad,” said Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is handling the investigation, which is now focused on a male suspect said to be about 5-feet-9 to 6-feet tall, thin, with light complexion, possibly African-American. He also might be heavily armed.
The suspect might be in a charcoal color, medium-sized four-door sedan, possibly a Chrysler 200 or a Honda of some type. He also may be on foot, said FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel McMullen during a Monday night press conference.
The suspect may have been injured and the car may have gunfire damage.
“This is a very dangerous person we need to get off the streets,” McMullen said. He added there may be other suspects.
The car also could be a rental, because bar codes were seen on one of the windows of the vehicle.
Anyone with information on the suspect(s) whereabouts is asked to call Crimestoppers at (800) 773-8477 or the Tupelo Police Department at (662) 841-6491. The FBI has offered a reward of $50,000, which has been matched by BancorpSouth, for a total reward of $100,000.
The officers were responding to a bank robbery call from BancorpSouth at 430 S. Gloster St., around 3:15 p.m. They arrived in separate cars and pursued the suspect’s car as it headed north on Gloster Street. The suspects jumped out and immediately began firing at the officers, Aguirre said.
The shooting occurred near the parking lot of Atlanta Bread Company on South Gloster, near Crosstown. Eyewitnesses said a black male approached the two officers and shot them at point-blank range.
Stauffer was pronounced dead at 3:46 p.m.
He had been a corporal with the Tupelo Police Department since 2005. He previously worked as a jailer for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and was in the Louisiana Army National Guard.
He and his wife, Beth, have two young children, Dixie and Skip. He is the son of Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton called it “a day of great loss and tragedy” and asked for support and prayers for the families of both officers.
“We ask the community to provide any information you can,” he said. “And during this time, particularly this time of year, continued thoughts and prayers. When tragedies happen, we just have to come together as a city.”
Eyewitness Shantiqua Shumpert said she was in a car between the police and the suspects when a man walked around her car toward the police.
“The police told him to get back in the car, and the next thing I heard were shots,” she said.
At least one of the officers was shot in the head, according to eyewitnesses. A lot of cartridges were left at the scene, officials said, and there was a heavy, dark pool of blood.
A citizen called in “officer down” using one of the radios of the fallen officers.
“We are grateful to the citizen who called for help and likely saved the life of the other officer,” Shelton said.
McMullen said the information on the suspect is preliminary and the investigation is ongoing. The suspect is believed to be left handed, he said, and witnesses have identified the person’s accent as being unique.
He is believed to have been wearing khaki or cargo pants, white Converse-type shoes, a long-sleeve jacket with a possible “Aztec” design and a blue ski mask.
Other agencies working the case include the U.S. Marshals, Mississippi Highway Patrol, Tupelo Police Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Department.
Stauffer’s body will be sent to the state crime lab for an autopsy.
The BancorpSouth branch that was robbed will be closed until Thursday.
Chris Kieffer contributed to this story.