ALLIANCE, Neb. — Law enforcement investigators on Wednesday morning marked and bagged a handgun, ammunition clips, boxes of bullets and a cellphone that were on a sidewalk near a downtown building where a gunman died Tuesday night after a 14-hour standoff.
At least nine officers, including members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, continued to work the crime scene, just hours after the death of Andres Gonzalez, 27, of Alliance.
Gonzalez exchanged a barrage of gunfire with members of the Nebraska State Patrol's SWAT team about 10:30 p.m. MST Tuesday. Concussive explosions set off by the SWAT team reverberated off the brick-and-stone buildings before authorities confirmed his death at 11:30 p.m.
No SWAT team members were hurt in the operation, although Gonzalez shot and wounded an Alliance police officer and a state trooper earlier in the day after storming into Thiele Pharmacy and Gifts.
The pharmacy owner, who had been taken hostage, escaped late Tuesday afternoon but was shot and wounded as he fled.
Deb Collins, spokeswoman for the Nebraska State Patrol, said a grand jury will be called to investigate the incident because Gonzalez died during the SWAT team operation. The Nebraska State Patrol said Wednesday that Gonzalez was armed with an assault rifle, as well as a handgun, based on the initial investigation. The Box Butte County Attorney has scheduled an autopsy on Gonzalez.
Collins declined to answer further questions about his death Wednesday morning.
Investigators identified the homicide victim discovered Tuesday about a mile from downtown as Gonzalez's father, Larry Gonzalez, 62. An autopsy will be conducted to determine how he died.
The younger Gonzalez was armed with a high-powered rifle when he entered the pharmacy Tuesday morning in the heart of this Panhandle town.
Nearly eight hours into the hostage-standoff confrontation, about 4:30 p.m., pharmacy owner Charles Lierk burst out of the store. Lierk, 62, was shot in the arm as he escaped.
Ray Hielscher, who was locked down in a nearby Radio Shack, said he saw Lierk run out. Hielscher said he heard gunfire and then saw Lierk grab his arm.
The officer and state trooper who were shot in the apparent robbery attempt were expected to survive, as was another officer who was injured by shrapnel.
As law officers tried to negotiate with the man, state troopers served a warrant at the home about a mile west of the pharmacy. Troopers found a body there. It was not clear how the person died or whether the death was caused by Gonzalez.
A large swath of downtown Alliance was barricaded by police after the initial shooting.
Witnesses described a tank-like vehicle moving into position, and authorities created a three-block cordon in all directions from the pharmacy. Businesses in the immediate vicinity locked their doors, and traffic was blocked in the downtown area.
The ordeal had this town of about 9,000 on edge all day.
Grandview Elementary, where a summer school program was under way, was among many buildings placed on lockdown. The middle school and high school were evacuated.
Box Butte General Hospital clinics and services, except for emergency services, were closed. The library and swimming pool also were evacuated.
The violence began to unfold at 8:50 a.m. MDT with a 911 call “that changed our lives in Alliance,” said Mayor Fred Feldges.
Dixie Nelson, executive director of the Box Butte Chamber of Commerce, said she was told that a man came into the pharmacy demanding drugs and that a pharmacist activated a silent alarm. As the man tried to leave the building, he encountered police responding to the call and shot an officer.
The manager of the Dollar General store followed events from the front window of her store, across the street from the pharmacy. Cheryl Moser saw a police officer move away from the pharmacy with blood dripping down his side.
“It feels scary, looking out the window and seeing that,” Moser said.
Authorities identified the two wounded officers as Alliance Police Officer Kirk Felker, 43, and Nebraska State Trooper Tim Flick, 37. Felker was wounded in an exchange of gunfire. His condition was not available.
Flick suffered gunshot wounds to his left side and was in serious condition. Also hurt was Alliance Officer Matt Shannon, 35, who suffered a shrapnel wound.
Moser said a SWAT team, sheriff's deputies, state troopers and city police officers had been stationed in front of the pharmacy with guns drawn since the shots were fired.
Col. David Sankey, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, commended all those involved for their dedication and professionalism.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Trooper Flick, Officers Felker and Shannon, and Mr. Lierk, as well as all of the individuals touched by the tragic events,” he said.
Assisting the state patrol were officers from the Alliance, Scottsbluff and Chadron Police Departments, Box Butte and Dawes County Sheriff's Offices, Nebraska Game and Parks, Nebraska Brand Committee, FBI and Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms negotiators. The Alliance Volunteer Fire Department, Nebraska Department of Roads, and the City of Alliance also assisted.
Staff members at the Box Butte Chamber of Commerce were getting out of a meeting Tuesday morning when someone left the pharmacy and shot a police officer, Nelson said.
“My administrative assistant heard a shot and we looked out the window,” Nelson said. “We could see that the officer had been shot in the right bicep.”
The six chamber staff members locked their building's doors and started contacting other downtown businesses to do the same, Nelson said.
“I feel relatively safely here,” Nelson said by phone from inside the chamber building. “However, until you ascertain for sure where the suspect is and if he had any accomplices, you are afraid.”
World-Herald staff writers Emerson Clarridge, Kevin Cole, Rebecca S. Gratz, Roseann Moring, Jay Withrow and Sam Womack, and Maunette Loeks of the Scottsbluff Star-Herald contributed to this report.
Video from the scene Wednesday.