Law enforcement officers continued the manhunt Monday night for the suspect in the shooting death Sunday of a 37-year-old Clinton, Mo., police officer.
Ian James McCarthy of Clinton is wanted on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of Officer Gary Michael during a traffic stop. It was the first line-of-duty death for Clinton, a town of about 9,000 people near Truman Lake.
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Being a law enforcement officer was important for Michael, a husband and stepfather.
“He really had a heart to serve,” said his brother, Chris Michael. “He loved it so much.”
The Missouri Highway Patrol is leading the investigation.
Officials say Gary Michael stopped McCarthy in a 2008 Dodge Nitro on Missouri 13 about 10:45 p.m. Sunday for a registration violation. As Michael got out of his patrol car, it is believed McCarthy also got out of his vehicle with a gun and shot the officer, said Sgt. Bill Lowe of the Highway Patrol.
Michael returned fire, but it was unknown if McCarthy was hit. McCarthy then allegedly sped off, but his SUV struck an embankment a few blocks away. McCarthy reportedly abandoned the crashed vehicle and fled on foot.
Surveillance cameras at two convenience stores place the 39-year-old suspect in the Dodge Nitro shortly before the shooting. Police afterward found a .223 rifle casing on the seat of the SUV.
“Shots fired! Officer hit,” a man’s voice said at 10:48 p.m. on police tapes. Then moments later: “Shots fired! Officer down. I repeat, officer down. … Get an ambulance here immediately. Immediately.”
A Life Flight air ambulance was on its way within minutes.
Someone asked whether the weapon was a small-caliber handgun or a long gun.
“Should be a long gun — went through the vest,” was the response.
Just before 11 p.m., a medic described the officer’s condition: “GSW (gunshot wound) times two to the chest, and the patient is in cardiac arrest.”
Michael died at a hospital.
Michael had been with the Police Department for less than a year, Lowe said.
Michael is the first officer to die in the line of duty for the department, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“He had always wanted to be a police officer,” Lowe said, but the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself until later in his life.
Michael grew up in the Kansas City area before moving to Clinton in the early 1990s, when he was high school. His father ran a car dealership in Olathe and wanted his children — two daughters and two sons — to grow up on a farm.
After graduating from Clinton High School, Michael joined the U.S. Army, serving as a military police officer for about five years. He was stationed in Germany and Egypt.
After leaving the Army, Michael returned to Clinton and spent some time working in the family car and real estate business until he felt pulled to serve again, Chris Michael said.
After the police academy, Gary Michael spent a short time as an officer in Appleton City before a job opened up for him in Clinton.
“He was super happy,” Chris Michael said.
By the time he was on the force, Gary Michael was married. His wife, Cindy, had three children and a grandchild.
The family had recently gotten a boat and spent weekends taking the children out on Truman Lake — the same lake where Michael and his brother and had grown up fishing.
On Monday, Gary Michael’s family gathered to sort through what had happened the night before.
What happened to him could have happened to any officer, his brother said.
“That was a sacrifice he was willing to make,” Chris Michael said.
As news of the fatal shooting of Gary Michael spread, local law enforcement agencies turned to social media to express their condolences.
Political figures also commented.
“It’s a tragic reminder for the rest of us, of what our police officers know every day — that putting on that uniform means they’re putting their own safety on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill. “I join all Missourians in saluting Officer Michael, praying for his family, and urging folks in Henry County to stay safe while authorities work to bring this suspect to justice.”
“Today, we mourn the loss and honor the service of a fallen hero, Officer Gary Michael,” said Sen. Roy Blunt. “Our law enforcement personnel put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, not knowing what danger they may face or whether they will make it home. We will always be grateful for their bravery, their selflessness, and their sacrifice. Our prayers are with Officer Michael’s family, and the Clinton Police Department.”
Traffic stop dangers
A “routine traffic stop” is a misnomer, Lowe said. Police officers are always mindful that something bad could happen.
“Every traffic stop is different,” he said. “Every traffic stop yields its own issues sometimes. We know as police officers that those traffic stops are always dangerous because we don’t know the individual that is driving. We don’t know the individuals in the car.”
“He has already made one killing and decided that’s in his mindset,” Lowe said. “You want to make sure you keep your distance, but contact us.”
In the minutes that followed Michael’s shooting, police tried to get a description of the shooter. One person told officers he saw a man in a white T-shirt run behind his home.
Another asked police to check a home’s basement after the resident found an open door. No one was found inside.
Monday afternoon the search continued as police checked a vacant school building a few blocks away from the shooting scene near downtown Clinton. A helicopter circled overhead.
McCarthy has lived for the past four years in a small house just a few blocks away from the scene of the killing.
His landlord was a family friend to Michael, going back to the family’s time in the Kansas City area.
In a town the size of Clinton, few residents are more than a few steps removed from each other.
On Monday, McCarthy’s house showed severe damage from a law enforcement raid the night before during the search for McCarthy after the shooting.
Broken windows and an open garage gave evidence to the force of the raid.
A neighbor, Whitney Julian, said knew McCarthy as a mostly nice, mostly quiet man who showed a temper at times, once “going berserk” when noise from heavy machinery in the neighborhood woke him up in the morning.
She said McCarthy lived a largely solitary life and did not work, instead spending much of his time playing video games.
“He was very hermit-like,” Julian said.
When McCarthy did appear outside his house, she said, it was usually to let his two dogs out.
With McCarthy now sought by police, his whereabouts unknown, the dogs were left behind. Julian and her family took them in Monday so that they would not be taken to a shelter.
McCarthy had previously been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in July 2015, a felony, and operating a vehicle without a valid license in 2013. He pleaded guilty to the traffic charge and paid a $145 fine. Court records show an arrest warrant was issued in December 2015 on the firearms charge, but the records don’t indicate whether the warrant was served.
McCarthy also has an extensive criminal record in New Hampshire, where he previously lived.
Those cases run from 1998 through 2001 and include an active warrant for his arrest that was issued in 2011 on charges of being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon, reckless conduct and disorderly conduct, records show.
Other New Hampshire charges include robberies, simple assault, negligent driving and driving after revocation or suspension.
In another case, McCarthy was convicted of first-degree assault for the June 2001 stabbing of a minor. Court records show McCarthy stabbed the victim several times, “causing severe injuries to his neck, chest and abdomen.”
At his sentencing, McCarthy was ordered to pay restitution to the victim’s mother, which included $3,250 for wages she lost while caring for her son.
McCarthy appealed the order, arguing that the trial court erred in awarding restitution because the mother was not the victim. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire agreed and reversed the trial court’s order.