Garland PD: Shooting last seconds, preparation for it was months long

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A police officer seeks witnesses to the shooting outside of the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative in Garland, Texas May 3, 2015. | REUTERS/Mike Stone

GARLAND, Texas (Christian Examiner) – The exchange of gunfire between a police officer and gunmen attacking a free speech event in Garland, Texas, May 3 lasted only seconds, but preparation for responding to such an event began months before, Joe Harn, spokesman for the Garland Police Department said in a press conference today.

Harn said organizers of the event were concerned its content, including a Muhammad cartoon contest and a lecture by Geert Wilder, the Dutch politician who has come under fire for his criticism of Islam, could provoke a response from Islamic extremists. They contacted police in advance to work out a security plan.

Harn also said conference organizers paid an additional $10,000 for security services comprised of Garland police, bomb disposal personnel, SWAT, FBI and ATF agents.

According to Harn, the gunmen attempted to enter the west parking lot of the building, but were confronted by a parked police cruiser. When the Garland police officer and a Garland ISD security employee exited their vehicle, the gunmen opened fire with assault rifles.

The police officer killed both gunmen with his service weapon – a pistol – in spite of the fact they were wearing "some type of body armor," Harn said.

"He did what he was trained to do ... and probably saved lives," he said. "Both of those men died there on the street next to their car."

Harn said he believed the gunmen's strategy was to enter the event to kill as many people as possible. "Obviously they were there to shoot people," Harn said, "but because of the way we were set up, we were able to stop those men before they were able to penetrate the area and shoot anyone else."

FBI forensics teams are still searching for evidence at the scene of the shooting and are also searching the home and vehicle of the suspects in Phoenix, Ariz. According to preliminary reports, one of the shooters was Elton Simpson, a Phoenix resident who had already been charged by the FBI for attempting to travel to Somalia to link up with the Al-Shabaab terror group. That charge was dismissed after the government failed to prove its case.

Harn said police had detonated several suspect devices in the trunk of the car driven by the gunmen, but added that no bombs were found. He also said police were monitoring social media to make sure there are no more threats.