An error led Clinton police officers to the wrong address Tuesday night, where a dramatic gunfight ultimately killed an officer, injured two others and left the shooter dead.
The trace of a 911 call in which two women could be heard screaming — but neither of whom directly spoke to a dispatcher — mistakenly led Clinton police to an address unrelated to the call, according to Sgt. Bill Lowe, a spokesman with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
The 911 call actually came from Windsor, Mo., about 20 miles northeast of Clinton.
Lowe said officers eventually responded to the Windsor residence on Wednesday, after discovering the error.
"We had to backtrack, go through the investigation, locate the number and contact the individuals in Windsor," Lowe said, adding that the officers were clearly given the Clinton address by a dispatcher.
It is unclear if the mistake was the result of human error or a faulty computer system.
"It's tough to navigate through and deal with," Lowe said. "This investigation is not complete."
Officer Christopher Ryan Morton, 30, was identified as the officer shot and killed. James E. Waters, identified as the shooter, also died.
"The 911 call that came in was somehow attached to that (Clinton) address," Lowe said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. "We're confident that is not part of this incident (in Clinton), but the fact remains they were called to that residence. ... In order to determine nothing adverse was going on in that residence, they had to make sure everything was OK. That's when the tragic incident took place."
When officers arrived in the 300 block of W. Grandriver shortly before 9:30 p.m., a woman later identified as Tammy Widger met them on the porch. She told the three officers that no one was inside the residence, and that there was no emergency, according to Sgt. Collin Stosberg, another Missouri Highway Patrol spokesman.
"We are required to make sure everyone is safe," Strosberg said, explaining why the officers entered the house.
Once at the scene, an officer asked dispatch for clarification about the nature of the 911 call, according to audio later posted to Broadcastify.com.
"Could you hear anything on the open line?" the officer asks.
"We can just hear two females arguing. We're not sure what they were saying," a dispatcher responds.
Almost immediately afterward gunfire could be heard. The terrifying gunbattle was witnessed by neighbors and captured in harrowing radio scanner traffic.
Morton was the first to step through the doorway.
Waters, a man with a criminal history, was inside.
He barricaded himself inside after shooting Morton and injuring two other officers. He then exchanged gunfire with a swarm of the at least 50 officers who eventually responded.
The two injured Clinton officers are expected to survive.
Officer Nathan Bettencourt is recovering from gunshot wounds and surgery at a Kansas City area hospital in stable condition. Officer Nicholas Kasper was also was treated for gunshot wounds and released from Golden Valley Hospital earlier today.
Police had been to the small white bungalow before — in fact, earlier that day Clinton police had unsuccessfully tried to contact Waters there as part of a rape investigation.
Neighbors reported being wary of the house, which has surveillance cameras on its roof.
After the gunbattle, methamphetamine was allegedly found at the home, and Widger was charged with possession of the drug with the intent to distribute and with keeping or maintaining a public nuisance.
Morton, an Afghanistan War veteran, died in the back room of the house while officers outside pleaded for the gunman to let rescuers in to try to save him.
A Missouri Highway Patrol SWAT team entered into the house after an hours-long shootout where they found both the officer and Waters dead.
It remains unclear if Waters, 37, took his own life or was killed by police.
The next day, neighbors looked back with fresh horror at the house, which was littered with glass on the front porch, had a shot-out front window with a shattered window blind hanging over its sill.
The front yard was gouged and the front walk busted by the heavy treads of a police armored vehicle that had driven up onto the yard during the gunbattle.
Sheryl Long, who lives directly across the street, saw the dying officer inside the house and heard the officers’ calling to Morton in desperate encouragement that was also captured in radio traffic.
“Hang on buddy, we’re here,” Long said they yelled. “Stay with us! Stay with us.”
Karen Conroy watched from her house as officers rescued one of the Clinton lawmen who was wounded.
Officers wrapped their arms around the wounded man and brought him up the block as the shooting raged on.
“But he kept collapsing,” Conroy said, her voice shaking. “You could see the panic in his eyes. ... It was very terrifying.”
James Waters' daughter, 19-year-old Lakeviona Waters, described her father as a broken man who spent the majority of her life incarcerated. The fear of another prison sentence motivated his actions, Lakeviona Waters believes.
"I think my dad was scared ... He didn't know how to live in the world alone," she said.
Waters, toting what officers on scene described as an assault-style rifle, never surrendered.
His record showed a criminal history dating back to 1999. He was facing new charges in Cass County after an arrest in November for alleged meth and marijuana possession.
Lakeviona Waters, who lives in Independence, said she wishes she could apologize to Morton's family for her father's actions.
"But I need them to understand that my dad's human, too," she said. After her father's most recent release from prison, in late August, he had looked her "dead in the eyes" and told her he would never be imprisoned again.
An officer responding to the house asked if any weapons were involved, but the caller had disconnected and the dispatcher did not know, according to the Broadcastify audio.
“Shots fired. Shots …” an officer said moments later. Three gunshots sounded before the officer’s transmission ended.
Soon officers were calling for an ambulance for an officer who was shot in the arm, while they also radioed to find Morton, who was No. 19.
“Nineteen, where you at?" one is heard asking.
“Back room, right side,” Morton responded.
“You good?” an officer asked.
“No,” Morton responded. “I’m hit multiple times. One left arm. Both legs. The chest, the vest.”
Meanwhile, the sound of gunfire continued over the radio. An officer radioed that “19, 14 and 18 are all hit with assault rifle fire.”
“Morton, stay with us,” an officer was heard saying. “Stay with us, Morton.”
His body was recovered after the highway patrol SWAT team entered about 12:10 a.m.
Seven months ago, another officer was killed in the town of 9,000 people. Clinton Police Officer Gary Michael was shot dead during a traffic stop.
Morton joined the Clinton Police Department full time in 2015 and started in a reserve capacity in January 2017. He returned to full time in late September, six weeks after Michael was killed on duty.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said Morton had filled the post of his fallen colleague.
Morton served in the Army National Guard and had been deployed twice, returning in May 2014 from Afghanistan where he served as a bridge crew member and radio communications manager.
“The world has lost a great soldier and even a better person,” said Matthew Hografe, who wrote in a Facebook post that he had deployed with Morton four years ago. “You will never be forgotten.”
Many businesses and public buildings flew special blue-and-black U.S. flags with a black bar alongside the traditional U.S. flag at half-mast.
The town had the special flags originally to honor Michael.
“(In Clinton) we are such a tight family,” said Conroy, one of the witnesses of the shooting.
“We have a great police department, one of the best. I’m feeling shock along with everyone else...We’re always going to find strength. It’s always going to come in numbers ... sharing stories, sharing hugs.”