An Arkansas sheriff’s deputy was one of two people shot and killed Thursday after he responded to a call in a rural part of the state, police said.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told reporters that Stone County Sheriff’s deputy Sergeant Mike Stephen, 56, was killed when a suspect opened fire as he was responding to a call in Leslie, about 77 miles north of Little Rock.
Sadler said Stephen went to a home at around 8:40 a.m. for a domestic welfare check and "gunfire erupted" while he was talking to a woman outside the house. Sadler added that a man was inside the home at the time and did not indicate who shot first or how many shots were fired.
He said Stephen and a male suspect, who has not yet been identified, were killed. The woman was taken to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
“The State of Arkansas has a heavy heart today,” Sadler told reporters on Thursday. “All too often now we’re getting calls that are resulting in the deaths of law enforcement officers, the individuals who are charged with the duty to keep peace in our communities, counties and across the state.”
“There is no routine call in law enforcement, but what happened this morning began as about as routine as you can get," Sadler went on. "But anything can happen anytime.”
Stephen had worked in law enforcement for 20 years and was a U.S. Army veteran, according to Stone County deputies. He was also the chief of the Pineville Fire Department.
Fellow deputies called Stephen an “extraordinary leader” who always wanted to be first on the scene.
"It is heartbreaking to hear that Stone County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Stephen was killed in the line of duty today," Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted on Thursday. "My heart goes out to his wife and son, and to his fellow officers and friends in their grief at this tragic loss.”
Hutchinson ordered the United States flag and the state flag of Arkansas to fly at half-staff in Stephen’s honor.
Other police departments in Arkansas offered their condolences.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Stone County Sheriff’s Office and the family of Stone County Sergeant Mike Stephen, who was shot and killed in the line of duty this morning," the North Little Rock Police Department tweeted on Thursday,
The tweet included the hashtags #GoneButNotForgotten and #BackTheBlue.
"Today, the State of Arkansas mourns the loss of a brave law-enforcement officer killed in the line of duty," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted. "Mike Stephen protected the people of Stone County, standing as part of the thin blue line separating our communities from crime and chaos."
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., tweeted that his prayers went out to Stephen’s family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers.
“He served his community in so many ways and laid down his life in the line of duty this morning,” Boozman wrote. “We honor his sacrifice.”
In a Facebook post The Stone County Sheriff’s Department thanked everyone for the “prayers and kind words.”
“Our Blue family has lost a great man who wore the badge with pride and honor," the post said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sergeant Mike Stephen’s Family,”
Police said the investigation is ongoing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.