Ferguson Shooting: Chief says cops lucky to live after 'ambush'

Ferguson Shooting: Chief says cops lucky to live after 'ambush' (Image 1)
Ferguson Shooting: Chief says cops lucky to live after 'ambush' (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

(NBC NEWS) - One of the two police officers shot overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, has a bullet lodged in his head, and both are lucky to have survived, a police official said on Thursday.

"We could have buried two police officers next week over this," Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County police told reporters.

He said that both officers were shot from about 125 yards away. Detectives are working on leads, but no one is in custody, he said. He also said that the number of shooters was not clear.

The shots were fired outside police headquarters just after midnight local time, toward the end of a rally that followed the resignation of the Ferguson police chief.

Belmar said that three or four shots had been fired. The officers were standing together, in what Belmar described as a line of 20 to 25 officers.

"This is really an ambush, is what it is," he said.

An officer from the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, 32 and a seven-year veteran, was shot in the face. The bullet entered under his right eye and lodged behind his ear, Belmar said.

The other officer, from the county police force, was shot in the shoulder, and the bullet came out his back, Belmar said. That officer is 41 years old and a 14-year veteran.

A Justice Department report last week alleged widespread racial bias in law enforcement in Ferguson. The report was commissioned after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in August.

Belmar said that police were taking care to respect the First Amendment rights of protesters. But he wondered what might have happened if the shooter or shooters had been much closer, "a threat right there in front of you that can be engaged."

"This is beginning at times to be very difficult for any law enforcement agency anywhere to really wrap their arms around," he said.