KALAMAZOO (WWJ) – Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata was fatally shot in the line of duty Monday night.
Police said officers were responding to a call of shots fired near the 1400 block of Hays Park around 11:18 pm Monday. According to authorities, when police arrived they found a 31-year-old Leonard “Danny” Statler standing on the porch.
When officers went to talk to the man, he pulled a handgun, prompting an exchange of gunfire between Statler and the initial arriving officers.
Police say Statler then ran in between houses on Hays Park, where he met with other officers who had responded to the scene.
Another exchange of gunshots took place wherein Zapata received a fatal shot.
Statler also died at the scene from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.
Speaking live on WWJ, reporter Jessica Wheeler from Kalamazoo’s WWMT-TV said she spoke with witnesses on the scene who said they heard as many as 11 gunshots from at least two different guns.
“Witnesses tell me, who know the suspect, that he was very distraught and had been having family issues. He was drinking throughout much of the night and they say that may have been one the reasons why he had the handgun and was shooting at police. They believe he meant to be killed by police and was trying to get them to come to his home,” Wheeler said.
Witnesses said the neighborhood is known for violence, where shootings on a daily basis are common.
The Statler’s sister told Wheeler that her brother did not shoot first. He was running away from the police and shot at an officer who startled him. The sister also said her brother carried a gun because Hays Park is a rough neighborhood.
Staff at WWMT did a little research and found that a Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer has never been shot and killed in the line of duty. Wheeler said the incident is the first time in Kalamazoo County that an officer has been shot and killed since 1867.
Kalamazoo Public Safety request prayers for Zapata’s family, loved ones and members of their Department in the aftermath of this tragedy.
An investigation is ongoing.