A police standoff in an East St. Louis neighborhood ended late Friday after an Illinois State Police SWAT trooper lost his life and three people were taken into custody.
Trooper Nicholas Hopkins, 33, of Waterloo, was shot when he went to a duplex in the 1400 block of Caseyville Avenue at North 42nd Street to serve a search warrant. He was taken to a St. Louis hospital with life-threatening injuries and later died, authorities announced Friday night.
Hopkins, who was married and the father of three children, was a 10-year veteran of the force. He is the first SWAT operator in nearly 20 years to die in the line of duty, said Brendan Kelly, acting director of the Illinois State Police.
“Even in one of the most dangerous corners of this country, he refused to let anyone hold him or the ISP back and refused to hold back his life,” Kelly said. “Even now he continues to serve others. He will donate his organs and his very body to help others.”
Throughout the day Friday, police approached the scene as if someone was still inside the house. They didn’t know if there was a person in there alive with a gun, or possibly dead.
By late Friday night, police determined the house was empty.
“There are no other suspects in the house. We are done processing the scene. The officers were there processing the scene (into the early morning hours Saturday), and making sure the house was secure,” said Kelly, the former St. Clair County state’s attorney.
The identities of those taken into custody have not been released, and no charges have been issued against any of them.
Neither police nor Kelly would talk about the case that led up to the shooting or say why they were executing a search warrant on the residence.
Here’s how the scene unfolded
The shooting occurred about 5:30 a.m. Friday. Afterward, a swarm of police from multiple state and local departments descended on the neighborhood.
About 9:30 p.m. Friday, a BND reporter observed members of the Illinois State Police crime scene unit carrying several large- and medium-sized brown evidence bags from the house and put them inside of their vehicles. One agent was overheard saying that a rifle was inside of the house.
Two large white trucks were parked alongside the residence throughout the day. For much of the day, police acted as though they were looking for a fourth suspect and believed someone could still be holed up inside.
One loud bang after another was heard as police threw concussion grenades and tear gas into the residence. An armored truck with a battering ram banged at the front end of the home, taking off the doors and windows initially. Then it dragged a couch from the residence and for several minutes flipped it over and over. The truck’s operator also used the battering ram arm to sift through other debris it brought from inside.
At one point, East St. Louis firefighters sprayed large amounts of water into the property. Though all of this, no one emerged. It was not immediately clear at the time whether someone was dead inside from all of the police activity outside, including the use of canines, or still holed up with gun.
Officers shouted through a megaphone several times, “Come out with your hands up!” For hours, armored trucks continued ramming the house. The loud booms continued too.
An ambulance waited nearby, but was never moved close to the house to indicate it was prepared to take a body out. No one from the coroner’s office ever came to the scene.
Residents were kept a good distance away, but throughout the day, they gathered, and watched, and talked.
People on the block talked back and forth about whether someone was in the house. No one knew for sure, and police weren’t taking any chances that another one of their own would be shot. People from the neighborhood couldn’t imagine that a human could withstand all of the tear gas and other things the police were throwing inside along with all of the water from the fire department’s hoses. They waited with heightened anticipation for a body to be brought out of the residence.
More and more police came to the scene, some dressed in camouflaged gear and bullet-proof vests. At least eight camouflaged police with riot gear and rifles hopped on either side of an armored vehicle and proceeded to the rear of the house.
Some agents had cameras and were taking pictures of the ground and the insides of a van that was in the crime scene. It appeared to be connected to the police investigation, but no one confirmed that it was.
One neighbor, Tiffany Graham, returned from work at 5:30 a.m. to find that she would not be able to get into her house, which was next door to the house where the search warrant was being served. Her 10-year-old son was inside of her house in a bathroom afraid, she said. Her fiance was inside as well. They could not come out and she could not go in.
Another neighbor said loud booms woke him up. He thought it was thunder, and when he went to the door to check things out, he thought he saw lightning. Others talked about how the neighborhood appeared to be under siege.
Several of the people, who sat on their porches or in front of their homes, uttered prayers aloud for the wounded police officer. One woman said, “This is just sad.” She said she was praying for the officer and his family. Others on the block repeated those sentiments.
Curiously, one man who lived nearby was allowed to barbecue, but could not leave.
One woman said she hopes the officer’s family won’t harbor ill feelings against the community because of one person’s actions. “We need the police,” she said. “And we thank the officer for his service. He is one of the many who help to keep our community safe for us. This is a very sad day for me.”
Illinois State Police Crime Scene investigators and investigative agents continued throughout the night “processing the scene of the officer involved shooting,” a news release issued by ISP said.
Many of the onlookers Friday begged aloud for the suspect, who they thought was in the duplex, to come out with his hands up and not in a body bag. They said, “Please come out. Please come. Lord let this man come out alive. I don’t want to see another life taken.”
Police were everywhere
Officers from many different agencies swarmed the streets throughout the day Friday, including the U.S. Marshals Service, Belleville Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department. Back and forth they went to and from the targeted residence. Some lined up alongside the armored truck, and when the truck went into the frame of the front of the house, they could be seen with black shields running to the house. They quickly came back out into the street.
Illinois State Police officers flew a drone over the area. Overhead the constant sounds of a plane could be heard.
A church parking lot nearby was filled with police cars, an ambulance, and a huge Illinois State Police command bus where investigators went in and out. At the beginning of the street on North 42nd Street and Caseyville Avenue, yellow crime scene tape and a slew of police officers held residents and gawkers out of the crime scene. Residents still inside their homes were not allowed out. Parents were not allowed to take their children to school, and people were not permitted to leave to go to work.
Kelly called it an active crime scene, and the extra precautions were taken for everyone’s safety.
“The officers were very concerned about the safety of the individuals in the community. That was their paramount goal,” he said.