Fugitive killed, Milford officer wounded in Rehoboth shooting

Police investigate a shooting in Rehoboth Beach on Thursday night. Milford police Friday morning confirmed an officer with their department was shot. (Special to the State News/Chuck Snyder)

Fugitive killed, Milford Police officer wounded in shooting near Rehoboth Beach

By Craig Anderson

and Noah Zucker

Delaware State News

REHOBOTH BEACH — A fugitive from Pennsylvania was killed and a Milford police officer critically wounded Thursday night during an exchange of gunfire, authorities said Friday.

According to Delaware State Police, officers assigned to the First State Violent Fugitive Task Force were attempting to apprehend a 37-year-old man from Reading wanted on an arrest warrant for attempted murder when the incident occurred at approximately 7:47 in the Econo Lodge Inn & Suites parking lot at 19540 Coastal Highway.

The Pennsylvania man was pronounced dead at the scene, DSP spokeswoman Master Cpl. Heather Pepper said. His name was being withheld pending notification of next of kin, she said.

A handgun was located at the scene, according to DSP.

State police said the 38-year-old officer who was shot is a 13-year veteran with the Milford Police Department who is assigned full-time to the task force. He was transported to an area hospital and was in critical but stable condition Friday, Cpl. Pepper said.

A Delaware State Police trooper and Probation and Parole officer also on the scene were uninjured, Cpl. Pepper said. The trooper was placed on administrative leave per divisional policy, according to authorities.

Police said the Medical Examiner’s Office is assisting in the investigation.

Witnesses to shooting

On Friday morning, Ty Smith said he was visiting the inn Thursday when the shooting occurred and heard eight to nine gunshots.

“I woke up the whole hotel because I started snapping,” he said. “It was an eruption of gunfire. They were having a major shootout.”

Mr. Smith said patrons were exiting the nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant at the time and children and adults were standing in the area when the shots occurred.

“That’s when I got upset and started screaming ..,” he said.

Rondell Thomas said he and his girlfriend had just ordered food from the Cracker Barrel when the incident began. While he didn’t hear the initial shots due to playing a video game, he stepped outside to smoke a cigar and witnessed the scene in the short aftermath of the gunfight.

Mr. Thomas said he was still emotionally shaken by the experience.

“This is traumatizing,” he said. “Some people will never be the same.”

Tammy Rubini described the scene as “chaos” and estimated there were 40 police officers when she arrived about 45 minutes afterward following a visit with friends. She said five DSP troopers were going door to door asking questions.

A manager at the Cracker Barrel declined comment Friday.

In response to followup questions from the Delaware State News, Cpl. Pepper said, “This remains an active and ongoing investigation. Information will be provided once it becomes available.”

DSP said the First State Violent Fugitive Task Force is run and overseen by the United States Marshals Service. 

DSP asks anyone with information on the incident to call Capt. P. Sawyer with the Homicide Unit at 741-2727. Information may also be provided by calling Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or online at delaware.crimestoppersweb.com.

‘Extremely rare’

According to Milford Police spokesman Detective Timothy Maloney, “It’s extremely rare for Milford police officers to come under fire like this. No one else currently working at the department has ever been shot on duty.

“We don’t know if there has been somebody, and if so, we don’t know when it was.

“None of the people that are currently employed, and we have people that have been on the force since like the late 80s, know of any recent shootings of any officers like that.”

Detective Maloney said the incident was “absolutely” out of the ordinary while on duty.

Reaction

On Friday, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings released a statement that read:

“My thoughts — and those of every person in this department — are with a Milford police officer who was hospitalized after being wounded during a U.S. Marshals Service operation last night. The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force located an attempted murder suspect who had fled from Pennsylvania and moved to apprehend him when the suspect opened fire. The suspect was killed in the firefight.

“Milford is a small town with a dedicated police force – like the rest of our state, the relationships are close. The attempt on this officer and his fellow officers’ lives has only been public for a short time, but I know that his entire community is hurt, angry, and rooting hard for a swift recovery. All of us at the DOJ are, too. “

“Anyone can say that law enforcement is a dangerous job, but in moments like this it is impossible to capture the inherent risk that our officers accept, head on, every time they go to work. Many of the staff at the DOJ — from our investigators to our chief of staff — were Delaware police officers. We don’t just share a mission; we are a family. We thank all three officers on scene last night for the bravery it takes just to do their jobs. And we are praying for this courageous man with all our hearts.”

Also Friday, Econo Lodge Rehoboth issued a statement:

“The entire Econo Lodge family is praying and hopeful for the injured law enforcement officer to make a complete and speedy recovery, and our thoughts and condolences go out to the deceased’s family and friends. At this time, we cannot give any details on the deceased’s identity as he was not a registered guest at the hotel. Details are still developing, and we are cooperating with law enforcement officials in their investigation.”

City of Milford Mayor Archie Campbell declined comment.

Said Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes in a released statement:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in this tragic event.”

DSP said late Thursday that the incident was contained to that specific location, and at the time, the area was secure and there was no threat to public safety, according to spokesman Cpl. Jason Hatchell.

Heavy police activity fills the Cracker Barrel restaurant’s parking lot on southbound Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach on Thursday night. (Special to the State News/Chuck Snyder)