Chief Bret Farrar walks past the caskets of four slain Lakewood police officers after speaking at their memorial service. The memorial was held a week after the officers were gunned down in a coffee shop shortly after their shift started. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Clemmons approaches officers, and kills Griswold and Renniger. His gun them jams, and Owens rushes him. Illustration Brian McKenna
Clemmons kills Owens with a backup gun: Richards counterattacks, wounding Clemmons, but is then disarmed and killed. Illustration Brian McKenna
The Four Officers from Lakewood
From left to right, Greg Richards, 42, Tina Griswold, 40, Ronald Owens, 37, and Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39.
Maurice Clemmons (AP Photo/Pierce County Sheriff's Department)
What happened in Lakewood still resounds through our profession.
FEATURED IN TRAINING
The four Lakewood officers drifted into the coffee shop one at a time. The day had started out poorly when, at the beginning of the shift, most of the squad’s six officers had gotten into a brawl with an emotionally disturbed subject. Although no one had been seriously hurt, it was still a lousy way to begin a Sunday morning. After checking the subject into the hospital, the officers decided it was time for a coffee break. They’d picked this coffee shop because it was a favorite of officers from around the area, and its friendly, comfortable atmosphere made it a good place to take a break. In this environment, it’s unlikely that any of them felt any uneasiness as they came in from the gloomy, drizzling rain outside. But they were about to become the victims of the darkest single minute in the history of American law enforcement.
Sgt. Mark Renninger, the shift supervisor, was the first to enter the shop. He bought a coffee, turned around, and walked over to a spot near the center of the wall to his right, where he pulled two small tables together and sat down. Renninger, 39, was a 13-year veteran, SWAT team leader, well-respected SWAT instructor, husband and father of three. Officer Tina Griswold, who’d been slightly injured in the early-morning fight, was the second officer to come in and make a purchase. She was a youthful-looking 40-year-old with 14 years on the job. She’d served on SWAT with a former department and was married with two children. The next officer to come to the table was Officer Ronnie Owens. Big, strong, and athletic, he was 39 with 12 years experience, as well as the father of one daughter. Officer Greg Richards, a 42-year-old, eight-year veteran and married father of three, was the last to enter the store. Like the others, he was personable, dedicated and well trained.
A Killer in the Midst
Richards was still waiting at the service counter to make a purchase when Maurice Clemmons walked through the front door. Clemmons, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, was slightly below average in height but stocky in build. Although he had no history of any contacts with the Lakewood Police Department, he had a lengthy and violent arrest record, and had recently become increasingly more irrational, especially in his expressions of hatred for the police. Just three days before he had told family and friends that he wanted to kill some police officers. The following day he was seen with two guns as he continued his rant against the police.
Clemmons was on a hate-driven mission. One of the baristas behind the counter greeted him, but he made no reply as he walked past a couple sitting near the front door. Without a word, he kept walking straight, as if heading for the service counter. It was a path that went right past the tables where Renninger, Griswold and Owens sat.
The tables were located along the north wall in a tight corner formed by the junction of the main wall and a half wall perpendicular to it. Renninger, his laptop open in front of him, was seated in the corner with his back to the half wall, the north wall to his left, and his view of Clemmons’ approach largely blocked by the half wall. Griswold was in a more vulnerable position, facing the north wall with her back to the shop’s open area and entrance. Owens was seated across from her, facing the interior.1 He had the best view of the front door, but his open laptop was on the table in front of him, and the entrance was only a few yards away. Even walking at a normal pace, Clemmons covered the short distance within seconds, and was probably behind Griswold before Owens or anyone else noticed anything unusual about him.
With a speed exceeded only by his brutality, Clemmons launched his attack. As he spun to his left, a 9 mm Glock suddenly appeared in his hand, followed immediately by two thunderous gunshots in rapid succession. At this range, Clemmons couldn’t miss. The first round crashed into the back of Griswold’s head, and the second into the right side of Renninger’s, killing both unsuspecting officers instantly.
Though stunned by the unfathomable horror before him, Owens sprang into action. Amazingly, Clemmons’ gun had jammed with his second shot, creating a brief window of opportunity for the officer. With the ruthless cop killer temporarily out of action, Owens quickly closed the distance and went hands-on with him. Owens was big, strong and capable, but sadly, fate was not on his side. Before the luckless officer could gain control of him, Clemmons drew a backup gun—a .38 caliber revolver. Owens fought for his life as his assailant maneuvered the revolver into firing position, but his efforts were to no avail. It’s unknown how many rounds, if any, Clemmons managed to fire before one found its mark, but one struck Owens in the head, taking his life just as Renninger and Griswold had lost theirs only seconds before.
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