PAYNE SPRINGS, Texas – A gunman shot and killed two Henderson County sheriff's deputies and wounded another Thursday, hours after the deputies participated in a memorial to honor peace officers slain in the line of duty, authorities said.
The deputies were shot while responding to a domestic disturbance near this East Texas town, sheriff's Lt. Pat McWilliams said.
McWilliams said the gunman was shot in the elbow and his side and taken to a hospital. He did not know the man's condition. A woman who was in the home was not injured and was being interviewed by Texas Rangers.
McWilliams said the wounded deputy's injuries did not appear life-threatening.
Diane Strickland, a nursing supervisor at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, declined to release information about two men who were seen being transported into the hospital Thursday night.
A man in a law enforcement uniform was taken by stretcher into the hospital with what appeared to be a leg injury. Another man, also on a stretcher, was taken into the hospital guarded by law officers.
One of the officers killed was in uniform and the other was a plainclothes investigator, McWilliams said.
The officers were responding to a domestic disturbance when the suspect opened fire, McWilliams said.
"Upon arrival, he opened fire on them and caught them out in the open. They tried to take cover," McWilliams said. "As a result, we have two dead."
The three deputies were shot by a high-powered rifle, McWilliams said.
The uniformed deputy who died was wearing a bulletproof vest "but that doesn't protect you from a high-powered rife," McWilliams said. It was unclear if the plainclothes investigator was wearing a vest.
The gunman's next-door neighbor said he witnessed the shootings and said his neighbor was armed with a rifle and had two pistols tucked into his belt.
"I saw him run to one side of the house and I heard shots down there ... and then he ran to the other side of the house and I heard shots from there," neighbor Russell Hicks said. "Then he ran into the house ... and when I saw him come out, he had blood all over him. When he got to the end of the chicken coop they told him to get down and he got down."
Hicks said his 47-year-old neighbor dressed in Army fatigues and used bales of hay as target practice almost every day. He would occasionally shoot at hawks that tried to make off with chickens that ran loose in the yard, Hicks said.
"I never had any problems with the guy," Hicks said. "If I needed help, he helped me. And if he needed help, I helped him."
Neighbor Ralph Satchell described the person living there as "a hard man."
"He's kind of a tough hombre," Satchell said.
Television footage showed police cars lining a dirt road near the farmhouse in the rural area. McWilliams said there were goats and chickens on the property, but it did not appear to be a working farm. It is a rural area, but there are several other homes nearby, he said.
The officers' identities were not being released until their families are notified, McWilliams said.
The three deputies attended a Henderson County Peace Officers Association memorial service in the courthouse square earlier Thursday to remember fallen officers, McWilliams said. Until Thursday, a Henderson County deputy hadn't died in the line of duty since 1956. The last time a peace officer died in the county was 1977.
The speaker at the service was a U.S. Border Patrol officer who is the cousin of the wounded deputy, McWilliams said.
Payne Springs is about 50 miles southeast of Dallas.