Southern policemen came from hundreds of miles around to the funeral of Tupelo, Miss. police officer Gale Stauffer on Friday, four days after he was ambushed and killed by a likely desperate and definitely heavily armed bank robber who remains on the run.
The outpouring of support for a cross-town processional for Mr. Stauffer is now fueling an intensifying manhunt for a slender bank robber whom police believe unsuccessfully tried to rob an Atlanta bank on Monday, only to continue on to Mississippi, where the same man allegedly killed Officer Stauffer and injured his partner before fleeing and disappearing.
Offering a $100,000 reward for indictable evidence, the FBI says the man is “described as approximately 5'8" to 6'0" tall with a slender build. The suspect was wearing a facemask, a shirt or jacket with an "Aztec" pattern, khaki pants, and tennis shoes similar to the Converse brand. The suspect's vehicle is described as a gray sedan, possibly a late-model Chrysler 200.”
The manhunt, which now involves hundreds of police officers across state lines, is far from the first in a year where America saw multiple acts of massive police coordination.
The year began with the February manhunt for ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who killed four people after declaring “unconventional and asymmetric warfare” against the LA Police. That chase took several days, riveted the national press, and ended with Dorner expiring in a cabin fire where police had him pinned down.
Police were so tightly-wound during the Dorner chase that on three separate incidents they shot at civilians they believed to be Dorner, largely on account of the brand and color of truck they were driving. All survived.
Then in a tragic week in April, an unprecedented manhunt took place after the Boston Marathon bombings, where an entire American city was in essence locked down for a day before police located bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev inside a winterized boat in Watertown. His brother, Tamerlan, had been killed when Dzhokhar ran him over during a shootout in the midst of the manhunt.
The manhunt underway in the South for the Tupelo bank robber has yet to gain such heights of tension, but police departments across the country are now on high alert, and residents are on the lookout. Mississippi State Police had no new information about media reports claiming a link between the Tupelo shootings and a possible suspect located in Chicago.
In Tupelo, best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, emotions are running strong at the end of a tough week for a city known largely for its proximity to the Natchez Trace and the prowess of its furniture-makers. The 30-something Stauffer was the first Tupelo officer ever killed on duty.
Stauffer and his partner, Officer Joseph Mahr, got out of their patrol car after responding to a robbery at a Bancorp South branch in the city of about 35,000 people. Police say the gunman, armed with an assault-style rifle, ambushed them as the pair moved toward a vehicle, and shot both at close range. Officer Mahr is expected to recover.
Police later linked the suspect to a previous robbery attempt in Atlanta, where the suspect, unable to get money from a teller, robbed an ATM customer outside the bank.
To be sure, Atlanta has its own manhunt memories: In 2005, a man named Brian Nichols, standing trial for rape, killed a sheriff’s deputy, a court reporter, a judge and a federal agent, then kidnapped an Atlanta woman, before being caught at the end of a 26-hour manhunt that brought the massive Atlanta metro area to its knees. The ordeal ended after Ashley Smith, whom Nichols kidnapped, gained Nichols’ confidence and was able to place a 911 call.
Attended by thousands, Friday’s police-studded memorial procession in Tupelo passed both the Stauffer family home and came within a few hundred yards of the shooting scene.