Grieving loved ones seek answers – and peace – after fatal shootings of two black men followed by killing of five Dallas police officers

By Jeff Truesdell
July 13, 2016 09:35 PM
Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

The tragedies began July 5 with a 911 call, alleging that a man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had brandished a gun while selling CDs outside of a convenience store.

Alton Sterling was a genial father of five known as “CD Man,” a fixture who sold music outside the Triple S Mart to support his family. Although he’d served time for illegal gun possession, the store owner said Sterling, 37, had a gun on him to protect against robbery when responding officers pinned him to the ground and then fatally shot him at close range. A deadly three days in America was under way.

The next day, July 6, Philando Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor beloved by the students he served, was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, for a broken taillight. Castile, 32, carried a licensed gun. But as he allegedly reached for his driver’s license, an officer shot him, and Castile’s fianc e streamed his final moments from the passenger seat on Facebook Live.

That both victims were black reopened wounds of racial division and distrust of police. Yet protesters across the country remained peaceful, and in a July 7 Black Lives Matter march in Dallas, Texas, demonstrators and officers posed for photos arm-in-arm.

Then shots rang out again.

For more coverage, and to read tributes to the lives lost, pick up this week’s issue on newsstands Friday.

PEOPLE cover

Twelve Dallas officers were hit, along with two civilians; five officers died. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the heavily armed gunman who was killed by a police explosive told a hostage negotiator he was upset by the previous shootings and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

Among those who died was Brent Thompson, 43, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer and father of six grown kids plus a stepson (and a grandfather of three) who had remarried just two weeks earlier. Lorne Ahrens, 48, a 6-foot, 5-inch father of two “was big, bad and kind a one-man army who calmed any confrontation,” says his brother Scott, but who also sat down to tea with his 10-year-old daughter.

RELATED VIDEO: President Obama Speaks Out on ‘Vicious, Calculated and Despicable Attack’

Patrick Zamarripa, 32, who served three tours in Iraq as a Navy MP, “loved, loved, loved being a cop,” says a high school friend. Michael J. Smith, 55, was married with a wife of 17 years and two daughters ages 10 and 14. As a sergeant with seniority, Smith “probably” could have skipped the protest march, says a fellow officer, but “he did not slow down.” Michael Krol, 40, had been a hospital security guard and sheriff’s deputy before the Dallas police force recruited him, and despite an occasional outward scowl “was just warm and good on the inside,” says his brother-in-law.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Even before the Dallas attack, President Obama had tried to comfort the nation, saying “We are better than this.” But the losses to violence exacerbated the country’s pain.

“We’re hurting,” Chief Brown said. “We are heartbroken. All I know is this must stop.”