In East Arkansas, Another Cluster Killing

Just days after the nation paused to remember law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during 2009 – 15 of them in brutal cluster killings – the law enforcement community is mourning another multiple fatality shooting.

Shortly before noon on Thursday, May 20, West Memphis (AR) Police Officer Brandon Paudert, son of the city’s police chief, Bob Paudert, and Officer Bill Evans were gunned down after they stopped a minivan with Ohio license plates on I-40. About an hour later, the gunmen were cornered and killed in a parking lot shootout that also wounded Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief W.A. Wren, head of enforcement in the sheriff’s department.

Thursday’s murders continued a troubling trend of cluster killings – instances in which two or more officers are gunned down by the same shooter. Last year, cluster killings claimed four officers each in Oakland (CA) and Lakewood (WA), three officers in Pittsburgh (PA), and two officers each in Seminole County (OK) and Okaloosa County (FL). These 15 officers were among 116 killed in the line of duty in 2009. Their names were engraved and then formally dedicated on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial during the 22nd Annual Candlelight Vigil a week ago, on May 13.

Officers Paudert and Evans are just the second and third West Memphis Police officers to be killed in the line of duty in the department’s history. The first was Officer Michael Waters who died in an automobile accident on September 11, 2003, during a pursuit of armed robbery suspects. “From an emotional standpoint of all law enforcement, this breaks the heart of every agency around,” Memphis (TN) Police Director Larry Godwin told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I’ve known Chief Paudert for 36 years. It’s unbelievable the hurt and pain this has caused his family.”

Added Arkansas State Representative Keith Ingram of West Memphis: “I guess you thank God that we’ve got police officers that put their lives on the line for citizens.”