BY MARTIN KIDSTON AND KPAX
Law enforcement officers from five jurisdictions converged on downtown Missoula on Wednesday morning and cordoned off city streets with rifles during a lockdown that closed local government and disrupted business across the district.
A police spokesman said later in the day that a gunman had fired on a patrol car travelling on Woody Street at roughly 9:45 a.m., setting a series of events into motion. That included rapid backup from other agencies and an ever-widening downtown perimeter.
“He reported that the rear window of his patrol car had just been shot out,” said police spokesman Travis Welsh. “Other officers in the vicinity quickly converged on the area while the officer took cover in a nearby building.”
What ensued left much of the downtown district inaccessible north of Broadway and west of Higgins Avenue for more than four hours. All city and county facilities were closed, including the county administration building, county courthouse, City Hall and main hall.
Other private entities, including Providence St. Patrick Hospital, also went into lockdown for public safety. The lockdown was fully lifted at 3:15 p.m., though police are still looking for clues detailing the morning event.
“We do not feel at this time that there is any immediate threat to the public,” Welsh said.
Seven members of the Missoula City Council were sequestered in main hall during the lockdown and forced to abbreviate business. Stacy Anderson, chair of the Public Health and Safety Committee, postponed several morning hearings.
“Given the circumstances of today, we’re going to have a slightly abbreviated version,” she told fellow council members. “Some of the folks planning to present can’t be here.”
Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell was with the City Council during the lockdown. He briefed council members on the situation several times over the course of an hour.
“It’s going to be a disruption, but we have these policies in place to keep everybody safe,” he told the Missoula Current during the lockdown. “It’ll effect all (city employees). Even though they may not have a downtown office, you still have those constant interactions.”
While the lockdown disrupted City Council functions, it also closed local courts, including Municipal and District court. With the County Courthouse closed, vehicle title and registrations were disrupted, along with other county functions. Snipers took to the courthouse roof.
Law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions including city, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and the Montana Highway Patrol blocked off intersections. A SWAT vehicle sat parked outside City Hall while a lone pickup truck sat abandoned in the middle of the road near the intersection of Woody and Pine streets.
It was there where much of the attention appeared to be focused and where reports of shots fired initially occurred. Mountain Line was forced to reroute buses as the transfer station was closed and cordoned off with police tape.
“We had a message from the mayor and various city staff and the doors were locked remotely,” said council member Jordan Hess. “The ability to do that is great. Law enforcement train day in and day out for this kind of event. I have the utmost trust they’ll handle it to the best of their ability.”
Anyone with knowledge of the shooting is asked to call Detective Guy Baker at 406-396-3217.
This story was also published by the Missoula Current here.