By Tim Unruh
Salina Journal – May 26, 2016
A blaze that couldn’t be fought and a one-sided gun battle brought law enforcement and firefighters to a rural farmstead Tuesday in western Wallace County.
While a large home was destroyed, an airplane, helicopter, drones and an armored vehicle were used to defuse the potentially deadly situation involving a man in his early 40s, shooting a high-powered rifle.
After more than 10 hours, the standoff ended, Wallace County Sheriff Larry Townsend said, and yielded a much better result than was feared.
“It’s a good day when all of us get to go home for supper,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Incident starts with fire
The state fire marshal’s office was investigating the charred remains of the large rural home, a few miles northwest of Weskan, which is 5 miles from the Colorado border.
While the man’s name and other bits of gossip were shared on social media, Townsend could provide only basic details to prevent harming a criminal case.
The fire was first noticed about 2:15 p.m. Central time Tuesday. As firefighters were being alerted, a young woman who lives in the vicinity “drove to see what the smoke was, in case nobody was there,” the sheriff said.
“When she stopped south of the house she was shot at and retreated.”
The woman was not injured, Townsend said, and made an immediate 911 call that prevented putting firefighters in harm’s way. They were already on their way from Weskan and Sharon Springs, which is about 12 miles away.
“We were able to stop the fire trucks short,” he said.
While the black smoke billowed, firefighters stayed ready about a mile away, Townsend said.
He and Undersheriff Marshall Unruh set up a perimeter while officers from the Greeley County Sheriff’s Office drove to the house. Next came Kansas Highway Patrol troopers. Two officers with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism also assisted.
“At that time, deputies began taking fire from the burning house,” Townsend said.
Vehicles belonging to the KHP and Greeley County were hit, he said, while bullets sailed over the heads of Townsend and Unruh.
“We retreated a little farther,” the sheriff said. “We weren’t born yesterday.”
Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation special entry teams assembled, by then about 600 yards from the house, he said. More than 40 officers were involved.
“They brought a helicopter and an airplane, and with the use of drones, we were able to pinpoint the subject,” Townsend said.
“He shot one of our drones.”
Shooter moves to trees
There was no conversation between the mobile shooter and law enforcement, he said, and officers never returned fire.
With the home and a shop surrounded by heavy timber and brush, the man at times hunkered down in the trees, Townsend said.
“He had some pretty good hiding spots, and under the cover of the trees, he was able to fire rounds at us,” the sheriff said.
At some point, however, the man took refuge in the shop, about 50 yards from the burning house.
“That’s where the guy was located,” the sheriff said.
Suspect arrested without harm
It was after dark Tuesday when an armored vehicle, called a Bearcat, entered the shop, and KBI and KHP officers fired tear gas inside.
“Then the subject came out and was arrested without further incident,” Townsend said. “The entry teams were very patient. They took their time and were able to get this guy out of there unharmed.”
While he suspected that the shooter also started the fire, the sheriff said he could not confirm it Wednesday.
The farmstead was cleared at midnight, but officers were posted there through the night.
“I have a great amount of gladness that nobody was hurt,” Townsend said.
He added that more information will be released later.
Posted by Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster