Dispatcher, two police officers killed; suspect flees in police

Sunday, June 8, 2003

FAYETTE, Ala. -- A teenager being booked at a small-town police station grabbed an officer's gun and opened fire early Saturday, killing two officers and a dispatcher before fleeing in a police car, authorities said.

The cruiser was spotted about 3 1/2 hours later, about 10 miles beyond the state line in Mississippi, and the driver was arrested, said Lowndes County, Miss., Sheriff's Deputy Tony Mulligan.

The suspect, identified in Mississippi jail records as Devan Darnel Moore, 18, will be charged with capital murder, said Chris McCool, district attorney for Fayette County.

The shootings stunned this quiet community of 5,000 near Alabama's hilly coal country.

Moore was well known in town because his older brother, Michael Moore, played football at the University of Alabama and is now with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe.

"I never saw anything to make me think he'd be a mass murderer," said teacher Ron Hannah. "He was just a normal kid."

Moore's father, Kenneth Moore, said his younger son had a troubled past but he thought the young man had turned things around when he graduated and announced he would join the Air Force.

Officials said Moore was being booked on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle when the gunfire erupted inside the one-story, brick police station about 5:30 a.m. CDT.

A firefighter heard the shots from the adjoining fire station and rushed into the Police Department. The men were dead and the suspect already was gone, Mayor Ron Nelson said.

City Councilman Cedric Wilson said those killed were Cpl. James Crump, Officer Arnold Strickland and dispatcher Ace Mealer.

Nelson said the suspect had been handcuffed after being stopped about 3 a.m., but the handcuffs could have been removed during fingerprinting.

"There was a struggle," Nelson said, and an officer's weapon was taken.

Nelson said the department had 14 officers before the shooting.

"This is a tragedy for our community," Nelson said. The Alabama House of Representatives, in session Saturday, held a moment of silence for the victims.

With the bodies still lying in the police station Saturday as forensics experts gathered evidence, about a half-dozen officers placed black ribbons on signposts outside. They briefly bowed their heads in prayer.

"It's a sad day for all of us who wear the badge," said Police Chief Euel Hall.

Wilson said he was familiar with the suspect but didn't know what could have motivated the violence.

"That kind of boggles all of us, what would make him do such a thing," Wilson said.

Kenneth Moore said he sent his son to live with the young man's mother two years ago because he couldn't control him. He said his son would often steal his car, and last year his mother found a gun in the house.

"I'm a discipline parent and everybody around town knows I'm a good parent," Moore said. "One parent can't do it all by himself.

"I kept telling people about it, going to the church and telling people he was a troubled child, but people didn't pay me no mind," he said. "I raised him from a baby, but people don't listen."

Doris Brasher, who owns a grocery store near the police station, said many in the close-knit town knew the men who were killed.

"I was just upset about the policemen because Mr. Strickland -- one of the officers who was killed -- came by regularly and stopped in by the store and made sure I was OK," Brasher said. "He was a very nice man."

Associated Press writer Harry Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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