ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Police threw a net over the city looking for whoever gunned down a third officer in the past month, and less than 24 hours later, arrested a 16-year-old in the killing, the chief said Tuesday.
Officer David Crawford was shot multiple times Monday night while investigating a report of a prowler in a neighborhood just south of Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball. About 24 hours later, officials gathered near headquarters to announce that a teen was facing a juvenile charge of first-degree murder.
The Associated Press does not routinely release the names of those under 18 years old charged with juvenile crimes.
"When he did make the admission on tape for us at the end of the day, it was quite apparent that he was remorseful in his actions," Police Chief Chuck Harmon said during a late night news conference. "He cried."
Harmon said the teen had a prior juvenile criminal record but did not give details.
Two officers responded to Monday's call. Crawford, 46, spotted the suspect and got out of his car, Harmon said. At 10:37 p.m., another officer, Donald J. Ziglar, reported an exchange of gunfire and told dispatchers an officer was down.
Ziglar found Crawford lying on the pavement near his cruiser, shot at close range, police said. Crawford was not wearing a bullet proof vest.
Helicopters, SWAT teams, dozens of law enforcement and dogs searched for the gunman and a swath of the city was closed to traffic for parts of Monday and into Tuesday.
Prosecutors will decide whether the teen will be charged as an adult. The chief said because of the seriousness of the charge and the teen's prior record that he would expect him to face adult charges.
Harmon said that he will be taken to a juvenile lockup and that his parents were cooperating. Harmon said police did not have a motive except to say that there was some exchange between the teen and officer.
"It breaks my heart," Harmon said. "When you have something like this happen, you don't expect this type of confrontation between a 16-year-old and a police officer to end like this. He's going to be paying for this for the rest of his life."
The FBI, the St. Petersburg Police and other groups also were offering a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspect.
Harmon said three tips led officers to the teen and that police were still looking for the gun. The suspect is a student in the Pinellas County Schools, but Harmon wouldn't say which school. It wasn't clear how the boy obtained the gun, Harmon said.
Crawford, who was married, eligible for retirement and the father of an adult daughter, was pronounced dead at a hospital. Officers saluted the van that carried his body to the medical examiner's office Tuesday morning. Crawford, who loved horses, lived in a rural community north of St. Petersburg.
On Jan. 24, two St. Petersburg officers — Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger — were killed as they helped serve a warrant on a man with a long criminal history. Their killer died in the siege. Prior to that, the St. Petersburg Police department hadn't had an officer killed in the line in more than 30 years.
"We're not even done healing from the first tragedy, then boom, we have a second one," said St. Petersburg Detective Mark Marland, who is also the police union president.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the city will now be able to bury officer Crawford and have some closure — but residents, officers and parents must also learn why a teenager was carrying a handgun.
"We as a community need to stand up and do a better job," Foster said.
Associated Press writer David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.
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