Phoenix police: Fatally wounded officer fired back - myfoxcarolinas.com

Memorial grows for fallen Phoenix police officer

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Detective John Hobbs Detective John Hobbs
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OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT TO HONOR JOHN HOBBS

A police department and an entire city are still in mourning over the death of a Phoenix police Detective John Hobbs, who was shot and killed while following a murder suspect on Monday.

A second detective, identified as 37-year-old Albert J. Casado, was hit -- he survived.  Both men risking their lives to get a dangerous ex-con off the streets.

On Tuesday, new details emerged of what happened at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road.

The two officers were undercover, following a man wanted for a murder last week -- that suspect stopped his car, realizing he was being followed and confronted the two detectives.

"The suspect immediately opened fire on our officers as they exited their vehicles.  Officer John Hobbs was immediately hit," said Chief Daniel Garcia. "The second officer in the vehicle was also hit... Officer John Hobbs.. even though having been hit by the suspect, immediately returned fire, striking the suspect multiple times."

The suspect was killed and Hobbs died from his gunshot wound.

Hobbs was a hero until the very last moment and it's something that isn't lost on his colleagues, his family and the citizens of Phoenix -- his wife and three young children received a lot of support from the community.

"You willingly send them out the door, realizing that they may not come home -- but you think they will.  You always think they'll come home," said Sharon Knutson-Felix, Executive Director of the 100 Club.

After the death of Knutson-Felix's husband, she became the 100 Club's Executive Director, helping families officers killed in the line of duty, with immediate financial and emotional support.

Misty Knutson was just 18-years-old when her father went to work and never came home.

"When it happens to you, there's nothing anyone can say or do that's gonna replace your dad or take it away -- but the support. really just being there - is what you remember."

Sharon says Officer Hobbs' family is overwhelmed with the outpouring they've received from people wanting to help in any way they can.

"They are already saying we just can't believe how people are reaching out already to want to do something special."

If you'd like to help the fallen officer's family, go to 100club.org


MEMORIAL GROWS FOR FALLEN OFFICER

There's a growing memorial where the shootout took place -- Detective John Hobbs collapsed on a grassy area -- the same place where dozens of people have stopped to leave flowers and notes for the officers, thanking them for their service.

A Glendale officer carried a small bouquet of flowers to the spot where the detectives were shot.  One of them lost his life -- Det. Hobbs will never come home to his family.  Both detectives were trying to catch a wanted man.

"This is a violent felony offender," said Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia.

William Thornton was suspected of shooting a man at point blank range near 40th Avenue and Camelback last week.  Police say Thornton thought the victim had robbed his friend and shot him in retaliation.

Thornton's mother lives in the same area. Detective Hobbs and his partner were staking out her townhouse Monday afternoon.  They saw him leave and drive off in a car.  Both detectives started secretly following Thornton and police say a few miles away at 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road, Thornton spotted the undercovers, crashed into another car and jumped out running.  100 yards away, the shooting happened.

"Officer John Hobbs was immediately hit as he exited his vehicle," said Garcia.

Even though Det. Hobbs was shot, police say he continued to fire back, shooting Thornton, who died at the scene.  Hobbs' partner was also hit.  

Garcia was emotional Tuesday as he talked about the detectives, their families and the shooting.

"I'm constantly besieged from e-mails and text messages from my troops reaching out to me, asking me if I'm doing okay... I'm so proud of the men and women of the Phoenix Police Department."

Det. Hobbs is the 37th Phoenix Police officer to die in the line of duty.  The last time we lost an officer was May 2013 when Daryl Raetz was killed by a hit and run river while investigating a crash.


REMEMBERING DETECTIVE JOHN HOBBS

43-year-old John. Hobbs was a husband and a father to three children -- ages 10, 8 and 6 years old.  He was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt.  He was also a cop -- a detective who was really good at a job he loved.

Hobbs appeared on FOX 10 in 2008, talking about how surveillance tape led to a metal theft arrest by Phoenix Police.  He gave credit to the public for calling in a tip.

"This is an excellent reminder that vigilance from citizens can result in the apprehension of some pretty brazen criminals," he said.

Tragically, a brazen criminal cut Det. Hobbs' life short Monday afternoon.

Hobbs was a member of the Phoenix police department's Major Offender Bureau for the past seven years.

People will tell you that from the beginning, Hobbs was a go-getter.

"John was clearly very assertive, passionate, hungry, go get 'em type of person," said former Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill, who first met Hobbs when he was a recruit at the police academy.  "21 years ago, I was his basic training sergeant."

Now here in 2014, the community mourns Hobbs -- a fallen hero.

Hill says he can't say enough about the importance of the community love and support for officers, especially now.

"Say thank you.  It means a lot to everybody, not just the family of the tragic loss the Hobbs family suffered and others, but all the ones that are out there, that are still working and have to live with what went on.  They will be helped by your response to them as part of the community."

Det. Hobbs had dozens of commendations from the police department.


THE SUSPECT: WILLIE THORNTON

Police say the suspect they were after on Monday was very dangerous.

In fact, on February 25th, he shot a man at point blank range in the chest near 40th Avenue and Camelback Road.  The victim survived and Monday's shootout wasn't far away -- near 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road.

Willie Thornton had done time at Lewis Prison in Buckeye -- a couple years for drug charges -- no major incidents in prison, but when he got back on the streets in January, he turned violent.

There was no reply when we arrived at the home of Thornton's mother near 41st Avenue and Camelback, but his neighbors talked to us.

"Willie.. I don't know.. he was a good friend to me, he stayed here when we first moved in," said Melvin Cannon.

Was he surprised by what happened on Monday?

"No," replied Cannon.  "I can't be surprised by what happened."

This is a neighborhood where anything can happen and does.

Police were looking for Thornton because they say just last week, he walked up to a man and shot him in the chest outside some apartments about a block away from his mother's house.

"Yeah, I heard about that too," said Cannon.  "But I did not think he would do something like that... as far as I know, he seemed cool when he came around us."

But Thornton wasn't cool -- he was a cold-blooded killer.

"See something must have happened behind the scenes.  He doesn't seem like that type of person.. that is what surprised me -- that he had the helicopters here and was involved in the shooting.. to me that is insane, honestly," said Shahdee Nelson.

So in the end, people who hung out a little with Thornton, who thought they knew him at least a little, could only guess what possessed him to do such a horrible thing.


FATALLY WOUNDED OFFICER FIRED BACK

A critically wounded Phoenix police detective who lay bleeding on the pavement returned fire, striking the suspect who had also shot the detective's partner while the two officers were attempting to arrest the ex-convict on an outstanding warrant, authorities said Tuesday.

John Hobbs, 43, a 21-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, later died from gunshot wounds. His partner, a 44-year-old nine-year veteran of the force who authorities have not identified, remained hospitalized in stable condition Tuesday.

"Today is a tragic reminder that our officers risk their lives for us every single day," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Police identified the suspect, who was killed in the shootout Monday afternoon, as William Thornton. The 28-year-old was wanted on a probation violation warrant after having just been released from prison Jan. 9 where he served time for a drug conviction and resisting arrest.

In addition to the warrant, Thornton was a key suspect in the attempted murder of a man who was shot in the chest on Feb. 25, Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said.

"The suspect immediately opened fire on our officers," Garcia said, noting the shooting highlights the dangers detectives encounter when tracking fugitives who don't want to go back to prison. "They'll do everything they can do to get away, including a reckless abandon for human life and that's what we saw yesterday."

Garcia said the undercover detectives were conducting surveillance outside a north Phoenix business that Thornton was known to frequent. When the suspect arrived at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, Garcia said it appears he immediately noticed the officers and tried to flee in a vehicle before causing a three-car collision in a nearby intersection.

Thornton then attempted to run away from the scene before exchanging gunfire with the detectives. Hobbs was shot first, but immediately began returning fire while lying on the pavement, striking the suspect multiple times. It wasn't immediately clear if Hobbs fired the fatal shots that killed Thornton.

Neither detective was wearing a bullet proof vest at the time of the shooting.

"They didn't have time" to put them on, Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos said while commending Hobbs' action after being shot.

"Heroic, absolutely heroic," Martos added. "We're talking about an officer who was shot and didn't give up the fight."

Hobbs and Casado were members of the department's Major Offenders Bureau tasked with tracking down and arresting violent offenders and fugitives.

Witnesses described the shooting as a scene of chaos with people fleeing from the crowded street corner as gunshots rang out.

"It was obvious that the guy was out of control," said Wayne Monton, who owns a nearby business. "After the crash and the shooting, everybody just took off running ... It was crazy. We thought it was a drug war."

Authorities said Hobbs leaves behind a wife and three young children.

"He is absolutely loved by everyone," Martos said. "He will be greatly missed."


If you'd like to leave condolences, head to our Facebook.com/myfoxphoenix page.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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