WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. -- Two police officers doing anti-drug work along a busy Arkansas interstate were shot and killed Thursday during a traffic stop by two men with AK-47s, and the suspects later died in a separate shootout with police in a crowded Walmart parking lot, authorities said.
West Memphis police inspector Bert Shelton said officers were "running drug interdiction" on Interstate 40 in east Arkansas when they pulled over a white van with Ohio license plates. The two men got out of the van and opened fire on the officers with AK-47s, he said. Paudert, the son of West Memphis' police chief, died at the scene, and Evans died at a hospital.
Traffic stopped as authorities searched vehicles on Interstate 40 looking for the suspects, who were later spotted in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart. Dozens of officers swarmed the van and both suspects were shot and killed, authorities said. The Crittenden County sheriff and his chief deputy were wounded in the shootout.
Walmart employee Iesha Person said she arrived at work around 1:20 p.m. as her co-workers, who were running out the door, told her to flee.
"I was hearing gunshots," Person, 19, told The Commercial Appeal. "They were telling me to turn around. So I turned my tail around."
Another witnesses described the scene on I-40 as "chaos." Stacy Gilchrist said she saw a police officer lying in the road when she pulled up.
"It was a disaster, cars were just going everywhere," Gilchrist told Memphis television station WMC.
Sheriff Dick Busby, who was shot in the arm, and deputy W.A. Wren, who was shot in the abdomen, were taken to a hospital, said Larry Godwin, the safety director in Memphis, Tenn. Busby's condition was not immediately known while Wren was in critical condition, a spokesman at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis said.
Hours later at the Walmart, an unmarked, blue police car was parked near the white van. The squad car's doors were open, with blood on the bumper and the asphalt below and bullet holes in the windshield.
Outside the West Memphis Police Department station, officers went in and out, some hugging each other as they passed.
Shelton said the two slain officers were doing the "most dangerous job" in the department because they dealt with drug traffickers.
"They were both very friendly, outgoing, dependable people, and I was proud to call them friends," he said.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said the killings were a reminder of the risks that police face.
"I have reached out to express my condolences to the entire West Memphis Police Department, including Sergeant Paudert's father, Chief Bob Paudert," Beebe said in a statement. "This is a loss shared by all Arkansans."