[Breaking news update, posted at 4:56 p.m. ET]
Authorities in Harris County, Texas, say they will hold an afternoon briefing to “discuss charging & arrest of suspect responsible for the shooting death of Deputy Darren Goforth.”
[Previous story, posted at 4:46 p.m. ET]
Texas authorities pleaded for the public’s help Saturday in finding the man who fatally shot a sheriff’s deputy in the back in what was described as a “cold-blooded execution” at a Houston-area gas station.
No one was in custody but investigators are “talking to people” about the Friday night’s shooting of Deputy Darren H. Goforth, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said at a news conference.
Earlier Saturday, Sgt. William Kennard of the Texas Department of Public Safety said a man “believed to be the alleged gunman” was in custody and being questioned, though he hadn’t been charged. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
“I plead today for the public’s assistance in our efforts to bring the suspect to the justice he so rightfully deserves,” Hickman said.
The sheriff said surveillance video shows people drove up to the Chevron station while the shooting was happening, and he asked them to come forward.
“This is the kind of thing that drives you right down to your soul,” Hickman said. “It strikes at the heart of who we are as peace officers. …This was just a cold-blooded execution.”
The suspect shot Goforth, 47, while the deputy was filling up his patrol car at the station just after 8:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. ET), Hickman said.
“Deputy Goforth was refueling his vehicle and returning to his car from inside the convenience store when, unprovoked, a man walked up behind him and literally shot him to death,” he said.
Goforth was shot multiple times from behind and then fell to the ground, where the suspect shot the deputy multiple times again, said Deputy Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Goforth, a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, died at the scene in what appeared to be “an unprovoked, execution-style killing,” Hickman said.
“I have been in law enforcement (for) 45 years,” the sheriff said. “I don’t recall another incident this cold-blooded and cowardly.”
Investigators believed Hickman was targeted merely because of his uniform. Hickman said the motive appears to be “absolute madness.”
At a new conference, Hickman and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson talked about the nationwide debate over the relationship between the police officers and the public, with the sheriff referring to what he called “dangerous national rhetoric.”
“When the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, cold-blooded assassination of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control,” Hickman said. “We’ve heard ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘All lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and just say ‘Lives Matter,’ and take that to the bank.”
On the sheriff’s department Twitter page, a post Saturday afternoon read: “#BlueLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter. All #LivesMatter.”
Anderson said, “It is time for the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement. There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.”
The gunman, who was captured on the surveillance footage, drove away after the shooting in a red Ford Ranger, authorities said.
Authorities said some bystanders called 911 to report the shooting.
About 30 minutes before the shooting, Goforth had investigated an accident, but authorities said it’s unclear whether there was a connection to the attack.
As far as authorities know, Hickman said, the only reason Goforth was a target “was because he was wearing a uniform.”
A husband and father
Goforth leaves behind a wife and two children, ages 5 and 12.
“Our hearts go out to them,” Hickman said, asking the community to remember his family in prayer.
“In times like these, it’s important to ask for the prayers from this community,” he said. “It strikes us in the heart to simply be a target because you wear a badge.”
A Houston-based nonprofit that supports the children and spouses of officers and firefighters who die on duty, said the group will give $20,000 to Goforth’s family.
After the first news conference about the shooting, held late Friday night, Hickman led a group of law enforcement officials in prayer.
Anderson called the killing “horrifying.”
“It’s an act of cowardice and brutality the likes of which I’ve never seen before,” she said.
Leading causes of officer deaths
Including the attack Friday, 23 law enforcement officers have been shot to death so far this year nationwide, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Traffic incidents are the leading cause of officer fatalities in the U.S., followed by shootings.