ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A manhunt was under way Tuesday for the person who shot and killed a St. Petersburg police officer -- the third officer to be gunned down in the line of duty in less than a month.
Police said the shooting happened after two officers were called to a neighborhood just south of Tropicana Field -- where the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball -- around 10:30 p.m. Monday to investigate a report of a suspicious person who may have been a prowler.
Officer David Crawford spotted the suspect and got out of his vehicle to approach him. At 10:37 p.m., another officer, Donald J. Ziglar, reported an exchange of gunfire and told dispatchers an officer was down.
Ziglar found Crawford lying on the pavement near his cruiser, police said. He had been shot multiple times at close range.
"Blood, it was everywhere," said Michael Poncedeleon, a resident who saw the shooting and spoke to TV station Bay News 9.
"Everybody was so emotional, all the cops were screaming," he said.
Crawford, a 25-year-veteran, was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center. He was 46.
By Tuesday morning, SWAT teams, a helicopter and canines were being used in the search for the suspect. Authorities said there was no evidence that the suspect was injured during the exchange of gunfire and an intense manhunt was ongoing in the Gulf Coast city.
Pinellas County Schools announced that a middle school and two elementary schools near the scene would be closed Tuesday and students were being notified to attend nearby schools.
The Tampa Bay area has had six officers shot to death in the line of duty in the last two years.
Monday's shooting happened about four miles from where two officers were gunned down in January. Officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger were killed as they helped serve a warrant on a man with a long criminal history.
"This city has been through hell," Mayor Bill Foster said during an early morning news conference Tuesday. "Our hearts are broken."
Officers gathered at Bayfront Medical Center and saluted as a white van carried Crawford's body out of the hospital.
"It hurts," Police Chief Chuck Harmon said at the news conference outside the hospital early Tuesday. "It stings. This killer has taken someone very precious to us, a member of our family."
Harmon said he could see the look of shock on the faces of his officers.
"As I saw their faces tonight it was ... not again," he said.