ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A St. Petersburg police officer was shot to death near downtown Monday night. A massive manhunt is now underway for the killer.
The officer, identified as 46-year-old David S. Crawford, was a 25-year veteran and had spent his entire career with the department.
He died after being shot multiple times in the chest while investigating a report of a prowler around 10:30 p.m. near 3rd Avenue South and 8th Street South.
He is the third St. Petersburg officer killed in the line of duty in less than a month.
"This killer has taken someone very precious to us," Chief Chuck Harmon said at an early morning news conference.
Prior to the shooting, a caller reported a suspect with a brick in the back yard of a neighbor's home and thought he might be attempting a break-in.
A unit was dispatched including Officer Donald Ziglar, 41, and Officer Crawford. Once on scene, Officer Crawford came across the suspect and gunfire was exchanged.
Officer Crawford was shot multiple times at close range. He was able to return fire. It is unknown if the suspect was hit, but there was no evidence at the scene to indicate he was injured, according to a police statement.
Officer Ziglar radioed back reporting shots fired and a request for assistance.
Officer Crawford was found on the pavement near his cruiser. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
"I heard seven to nine shots all in a row and I ran outside and around the corner to see the commotion," said Fred Evans who lives in the area. "I saw someone running away really fast. I don't know if it was someone trying to flee the gunshots or the suspect."
Marie Woodward also heard the gunfire, "I just heard pop pop pop pop pop. You couldn't pay me enough to be a police officer. The job they do putting on a badge every day, I wouldn't want to do it."
Interstate exit ramps and several city blocks east of Tropicana Field were closed, and Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies have joined in a search of the Campbell Park neighborhood for the suspect. Authorities later expanded the search area to 15th Avenue S.
Some 200 officers are combing a 132 block area for the suspect. The caller identified the suspect as a black male in his late teens or early 20's, wearing a dark-colored hoodie.
Three schools have been closed and students are being directed to other campuses.
"The city has been through hell," said Mayor Bill Foster. "It took 30 years to lose an officer in the line of duty, and within 30 days, it has happened again."
"It hurts. There is a lot of pain," said Chief Harmon, But, he said, it won't hinder officers from doing their jobs. "We have a killer on the loose, and we will use every resource we have to apprehend them."
The Police Department is still mourning the loss of Sergeant Thomas Baitinger and K-9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz. Both were killed by wanted fugitive Hydra Lacy, Jr. on January 24.
Anyone with information about Monday night's shooting is urged to call the St. Petersburg Police Department Communications center at 813-893-7780.