The Missouri officer who was killed during a shootout Tuesday, as well as the two other officers who were injured, were actually sent to the wrong location when responding to a 911 call, officials said during a news conference Wednesday.
Three officers from the Clinton Police Department were dispatched to a home in Clinton around 9:22 p.m. after 911 operators received a call that had two women screaming in the background, Sgt. Bill Lowe of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said of the “tragic” incident. However, authorities were later able to determine that the placed call did not originate from that location, but rather one in Windsor, about 15 miles away, Lowe said.
When authorities reached the Clinton residence, they encountered a woman, Tammy Widger, who said there was nothing wrong and she was the only one home, Lowe said. The officers reportedly confirmed with dispatch that they were in the correct location and proceeded to enter the home to further investigate the situation.
After walking in, the suspect, James E. Waters, 37, started shooting at the officers, Lowe said. They reportedly returned fire but Officer Ryan Morton was killed in the shootout. The two accompanying offficers sustained non-life threatening injuries, Lowe said.
Morton’s body was retrieved from the home by a tactical team and a SWAT team, who around 12:10 a.m. Wednesday went back in for the suspect, Lowe said. Waters was reportedly found dead in the bathroom from a gunshot wound. Authorities are waiting for an autopsy report to determine how he died, they said.
A number of weapons were also seized from the home, Lowe said.
It’s not yet clear how the officers ended up getting directed to the wrong place but it’s under investigation, police said. They added that at no point during the 911 call from Windsor did anyone indicate that they were in Clinton.
When the officers entered the home, Lowe said they were doing what they were supposed to and that Widger’s comments could not be taken at “face value.” They needed to investigate and “they did that heroically.”
“To enter a residence like that and sustain the amount of gunfire that they took on, they were heroic in their actions,” Lowe said.
Widger was arrested, police said, and was charged with possession of methamphetamines with the intent to deliver as well as keeping or maintaining a public nuisance, Henry County Prosecuting Attorney Richard Shields said, alleging that she had been delivering controlled substances at that location. Her bail was set at $25,000, he added.
Waters had been arrested in November 2017 for unlawful possession of a controlled substance and was also currently part of another investigation involving a rape allegation, police said. It wasn’t clear what his involvement in the investigation was.
The shootout was described by police as a separate incident from the initial 911 call and said it was a coincidence that officers were called to the house before the eventual discovery Widger’s alleged crimes.
Officer Morton was first employed by the Clinton Police Department in 2015 and recently returned to full-time duty after fellow Officer Gary Michael was killed in the line of duty.
“This police department has endured a lot over the last seven months and then to endure it again, you know, it’s going to be difficult for them,” Lowe said. “Our heart goes out to the Clinton Police Department. Our heart goes out the families that have been impacted. It’s a tragedy that we don’t want to happen again and from this point on, we're in that healing process.”
At least 20 officers across the U.S. have been killed on duty so far this year.