KALAMAZOO, Michigan -- Three Kalamazoo-area police officers are recovering from gunshot wounds Monday after a home invasion in Kalamazoo County that left a 22-year-old man dead.
“It’s been a long night in the law enforcement community,” Kalamazoo County Sheriff Rick Fuller said at a news conference Monday, Dec. 2.
A sheriff’s deputy, Kalamazoo Public Safety officer and Michigan State Police trooper were all wounded after hearing gunshots and entering the home late Sunday, Dec. 1.
Christopher Ryan Lee Neal, 22, was shot and killed by a suspect who broke into the home, police said Monday. Neal’s wife and young child hid in an upstairs room and escaped injury, Fuller said.
The suspect, who police said shot and wounded officers when they entered, was later arrested after attempting to flee the scene.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas pointed out Monday it was the second time this year a Kalamazoo public safety officer was shot in the line of duty. Thomas noted the March 12 shooting at Biomat USA plasma donation center, when an officer was shot during an exchange of gunfire with a gunman, who was killed.
KDPS Officer Brendan Westrick, one of two who shot and killed the gunman on March 12, was struck three times — twice in the abdomen with bullets that struck his bulletproof vest and by a third bullet that struck his empty gun holster. Westrick was released from the hospital later that same day.
The three officers injured Sunday brings the total number of area law enforcement officers shot over a 48-hour period to four. Battle Creek Police Officer Jeffrey Johnson was shot three times and injured Saturday, Nov. 30, while trying to apprehend a fleeing suspect. Johnson was shot in his left leg, left chest and also suffered a bullet graze to his wrist, police said.
Thomas said the community suffered a “tragic loss" in the killing of Neal, and also called the weekend’s events “sobering” for local police departments.
“It’s a sobering reminder of the work that all the law enforcement, all our first responders do, day in and day out,” Thomas said.
None of the officers at the home in Comstock Township returned any gunfire because of the risk to other people in the house, Fuller said.
“And that’s why you have three injured officers today and a suspect in custody,” the sheriff said.
Fuller said the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s office, Michigan State Police and Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety first responded at about 10 p.m. Sunday to a report of a home invasion at 6300 Proctor Ave. in Comstock Township.
The family of three was “doing nothing wrong” watching television when the suspect, a stranger to the family, broke into their home and caused “40 minutes of mayhem," Fuller said.
The wife took the young child out of harm’s way and hid in an upstairs room where she called 911. The woman told police the suspect had her husband held hostage downstairs.
About 45 minutes after the first calls came in, police on scene heard gunfire coming from within the house and entered the home to “try and save lives,” Fuller said. At that point, the sheriff said, the full Kalamazoo Metro SWAT team was still en route to the scene.
When police entered, the suspect fired “a lot of rounds,” striking three officers and resulting in non-life-threatening injuries to all three, Fuller said.
The sheriff said they are seeking charges of murder, home invasion, unlawful imprisonment and multiple counts of assault. The suspect, who Fuller said is being held at the Kalamazoo County Jail, is expected to be arraigned in Kalamazoo County District Court on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The injured sheriff’s deputy, who Fuller declined to identify, was grazed in the head by a bullet and was released from the hospital after being treated for the injury. The deputy has been with the county for less than a year, Fuller said.
“The men and women of emergency services, law enforcement, fire, EMS, they go out every night and their goal is to protect their community, to work as a team and to help their citizens,” the sheriff said.
Trooper Mark Fletcher, who has served with MSP for two years, was shot in the lower leg and was also released from the hospital Sunday night.
KDPS Officer Caleb Jones, who had been with the department three years, was shot in his left shoulder and is in good condition at the hospital Monday, Thomas said.
Fuller said the community must work together to help the family heal. When Fuller returned to his office late Sunday night, he said he could hear the child playing in another room while deputies talked to Neal’s wife.
“It struck me that this young child has a new future, a new future brought upon her through a tragic event that can’t be erased,” Fuller said.
The officers involved in the issue will also need support, he said.
“They were at the scene and did everything they could, and there’s still a loss," Fuller said.
Thomas and Michigan State Police Lt. Angel Ouwinga echoed Fuller’s sentiments.
Ouwinga said the MSP trooper, Fletcher, was in “good spirits” Monday morning.
“I just want to say how proud I am of all of our officers and how well they worked together and how they handled the situation last night,” Ouwinga said. “Our condolences to the family for everything they’re going through. Certainly this was a very senseless and tragic incident."
Thomas thanked her officers for their dedication and commitment to the community and said she hopes the public knows how much her officers love their work and are here to protect citizens.
“We are so thankful that all of the officers survived this incident,” Thomas said.
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