Slain St. Clair officer walked into 'worst nightmare' for police
As police Officer Lloyd Reed Jr. lay mortally wounded in the darkness on the ground outside a New Florence house, he grasped his radio to make a final call.
He had been shot, he said, and the man who fired a rifle at him was on the run.
“Officer Reed was able to give his own distress call and where he was at,” state police Trooper Steve Limani said Monday, describing the deadly shootout.
A state police dispatcher could hear a woman yelling, “He's shot! He's shot!” police said.
Reed, a St. Clair Township officer, found himself in the middle of a “police officer's worst nightmare” when he responded to a domestic violence call Saturday night in the small town in the northeastern corner of Westmoreland County. He died shortly after making that radio call.
Ray Shetler Jr., 31, of New Florence was charged Monday with homicide. District Attorney John Peck said it is “too early” in the investigation to determine whether his office will seek the death penalty.
“Domestics ... that is the worst call to go to for police officers. Most are very volatile ... very hurtful,” Limani said.
And they are the most dangerous, according to Craig W. Floyd, chief executive officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a Washington nonprofit that maintains the memorial there.
“Domestic disputes usually involve emotionally charged suspects who are often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a weapon is added to the mix, the circumstance can turn deadly for a victim of domestic violence, as well as for the officer coming to their aid,” Floyd said.
According to an FBI report, almost a third of the 48,315 assaults against officers in the United States in 2014 occurred during domestic calls. In the past 10 years, 104 officers were killed in the line of duty during domestic calls.
Reed is the eighth officer killed this year while responding to a domestic call, Floyd said.
“You had a call of distress from a woman who reported she was in a domestic dispute. She had been assaulted, already suffered a wound to her nose,” Limani said. “The suspect was now carrying a long rifle and was refusing to put it down. She said he was threatening to kill her and himself.”
Dispatchers told the caller, Kristin Luther, Shetler's girlfriend, to stay on the line. They listened as the incident escalated.
Luther told dispatchers that Shetler was drunk and had struck her. The dispatchers could hear arguing and things breaking, the trooper said.
“Then there was also a report of smoke in the house, so it was believed (Shetler) may have set a fire,” Limani said.
Reed was the first police officer to pull up at 131 Ligonier St. When Shetler came out of the house, Reed repeatedly commanded him to put down his .270-caliber rifle. Shetler refused. Within seconds, gunfire erupted, Limani said. The officer and suspect were hit in the exchange.
Shetler fled, triggering a six-hour manhunt. He was arrested about 3 a.m. Sunday. He was arraigned Monday and ordered held in the county jail without bail until his preliminary hearing Dec. 11.
In a police interview in the hospital, Shetler said he did not realize Reed was a police officer, state police Cpl. Michael McElfresh wrote in an affidavit of probable cause.
“Shetler Jr. related that the unknown male then began shooting at him, so he returned fire,” McElfresh said.
Luther's initial interviews with police and 911 recordings indicate that she repeatedly told Shetler that police were on the way and had arrived at the scene, Limani said.
“You can clearly hear Miss Luther on the 911 tape tell Mr. Shetler that she had contacted police. Then she advised him (police) were there,” Limani said. “Mr. Shetler ignored the requests to drop his firearm and aggressively advanced toward Officer Reed.”
On the 911 tapes, Shetler can be heard replying, “(Expletive) the police,” when he stepped out of the house, Limani said. Luther told troopers that Shetler began arguing with Reed outside.
Limani said Luther and the second officer to arrive, Justin Dickert of Seward, told troopers that they could hear Reed repeatedly order Shetler to drop his weapon. Reed and Shetler were 20 to 30 feet apart when shots were fired, police said.
It isn't clear who fired first, Limani said, but evidence shows Shetler fired his rifle three times at Reed, while the officer fired six shots from his .40-caliber handgun. Dickert fired one round from his .40-caliber service revolver toward Shetler as he ran.
Limani said one bullet from Shetler's rifle struck Reed in the chest, killing him. He said police don't know whether Reed or Dickert fired the shot that hit Shetler's shoulder.
Shetler was treated in Conemaugh Memorial Hospital in Johnstown, where doctors decided not to remove the bullet, Limani said.
A tip led police to Shetler's location early Sunday just outside the town of fewer than 700 residents. He had swum across the Conemaugh River to escape.
The FBI's evidence response team was searching along the riverbank in New Florence for Shetler's rifle, which he dropped as he ran. Limani asked that anyone who finds a rifle contact state police.
Reed of Hollsopple, Somerset County, had been a police officer for more than 24 years. He is survived by his wife, Rosemarie.
Capt. Don Hess, one of Reed's co-workers with the St. Clair Township police, described him as “a kind and gentle person.”
“He died the way he lived — trying to help other people,” Hess said.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.