Slain Washington state deputy ID’d, mourned by community as 'one of our finest'

A small community in central Washington state on Wednesday mourned the sheriff’s deputy who was killed in a shootout with a road-rage driving suspect, remembering the veteran officer as a family man and “one of our finest.”

Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Thompson, 42, was shot dead Tuesday night after he and Kittitas police Officer Benito Chavez, 22, responded to a driving complaint and attempted to stop a vehicle. After a short pursuit, the suspect exited the car and exchanged gunfire with the officers, killing Thompson and wounding Chavez. The suspect was also shot and later died.

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"Our community has a very heavy heart today. Last night, we lost one of our finest," Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana said at a news conference Wednesday morning. It was the first fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer in the rural county in 92 years, he said.

"Our community has a very heavy heart today. Last night, we lost one of our finest."

— Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana

The tight-knit community of 1,500 was stunned that such violence could descend on the town, whose website brands it as a place “without the crime, noise, traffic jams and pollution of larger cities,” the Seattle Times reported.

“For this to happen here? It’s insane. You don’t get that here,” Ethan Keaton, a 17-year-old high school student, told the paper.

The body of Kittitas County sheriff's deputy Ryan Thompson is draped with a U.S. flag as it is carried out of Kittitas Valley Healthcare Hospital in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 20 in Ellensburg, Wash. (Associated Press)

The body of Kittitas County sheriff's deputy Ryan Thompson is draped with a U.S. flag as it is carried out of Kittitas Valley Healthcare Hospital in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 20 in Ellensburg, Wash. (Associated Press)

Mourners gathered at a memorial at Kittitas Elementary School, about a block from the shooting scene, to honor Thompson, who was born in nearby Walla Walla and attended Central Washington University, the Times reported. Heart-shaped balloons were strung along the fence with homemade signs that read: “Kittitas Strong.”

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“Maybe you get pulled over for a DUI or speeding. You don’t get people shot here,” Josh Dunn, a 20-year-old who grew up in the town, told the paper. “I don’t even have a word for it.”

Thompson, a 15-year law enforcement veteran, is survived by his wife and three children, FOX13 Seattle reported.

Kittitas police Officer Benito Chavez, 22, was shot and wounded in a leg during a shootout with a road-rage driving suspect Tuesday night. He was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday morning.

Kittitas police Officer Benito Chavez, 22, was shot and wounded in a leg during a shootout with a road-rage driving suspect Tuesday night. He was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday morning. (Ellensburg Police Department)

Chavez was shot in a leg and suffered a shattered femur, Ellensburg Police Chief Ken Wade said. He was airlifted to a hospital following the shootout and was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday morning. He and his wife are expecting their first child, the FOX13 reported.

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The suspect, who has not been identified, was shot and later died at a hospital. Authorities did not immediately provide information on how many times the suspect was shot or how many shots were fired overall.

Wade said authorities have no other information besides the road-rage incident for what might have prompted the suspect to flee and exchange gunfire with the officers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.