A Missouri police officer was killed in a shootout Tuesday after he and two others were sent to the wrong address following a 911 call, PEOPLE confirms.
Adding to the tragedy, Officer Christopher Ryan Morton had rejoined the small-town Clinton Police Department only last fall, determined to support his former colleagues after someone shot and killed another Clinton officer at a traffic stop in August.
“They’re all a tight family,” said Morton’s longtime friend, Tim Jackson, according to The Kansas City Star. “Once that happened, he wanted to be there for his brothers.”
Morton, 30, a Kansas City Royals baseball fan and twice-deployed Army National Guard member who sent a video Mother’s Day greeting to his mom from Kandahar in 2014, had served on the police force for nearly two years when he quit to take a job with Veterans Affairs in the Kansas City area.
He remained on the force as a reserve officer, but returned to it full-time after taking over the spot that opened with the shooting death seven months ago of fellow Officer Gary Michael.
A friend of Morton’s from elementary school, Aiza Evans, said she questioned him on social media about his decision to return to police work.
“Isn’t that where a cop was killed a few months ago?” she wrote to him, The Star reports. “I think it made the national news.”
Morton answered: “Yeah, I took his spot. Part of the reason I went back.”
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In a subsequent message he wrote to her: “Just trying to help the PD heal right now.”
The confrontation that killed Morton also injured two other officers, Nathan Bettencourt and Nicholas Kasper.
Henry County 911 dispatchers who received the call about 9:22 p.m. Tuesday said they could hear “two women arguing” but were unable to speak to anyone as the phone line was left open, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said in a news release.
When Morton and other officers arrived at the 306 West Grandriver Street address they’d been given, they spoke to Tammy Widger, of Clinton, who told the officers there was no problem and no others were inside.
Officers then confirmed the address with dispatchers, then went in for a look and encountered the suspected shooter, James E. Waters, 37, who began firing at the three officers, killing Morton.
A SWAT team and members of the Bates County Tactical Team later entered and pulled Morton out. But not until more than two hours after officers first arrived did the SWAT and tactical teams go back in to search for the barricaded suspect, who they found dead in the bathroom from a gunshot wound.
“Further investigation revealed the phone number from the original 911 call came from an address in Windsor, Mo., and not the residence of the officer-involved shooting,” the highway patrol reported.
The investigation into the mishap is continuing.
“It is a coincidence they were called to that specific address,” Sgt. Bill Lowe told reporters, according to NPR. “It is tragic that happened. But the fact is, they were in the act of committing crimes within that house. When (the officers) entered that house, they were doing what they needed to ensure no one was hurt and there wasn’t any other problems.”
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On Wednesday the office of Henry County Prosecuting Attorney Richard Shields charged Widger, 37, with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and maintaining a public nuisance, PEOPLE confirms. She is jailed on a $25,000 bond and has not yet entered a plea. An attorney for her was not immediately identified.
As a member of the military, Morton had been selected in 2014 to sit in the “Our Heroes” seat at a Royals baseball game, where he was shown on video tipping his hat to the applause of the crowd.
From Kandahar during one of his overseas deployments, he said in a Mother’s Day video greeting: “I want to give a special shout out to my mom. Happy Mother’s Day. Love you. Miss you. It’s been a long deployment, we’ll see you soon.”
A fellow reservist, Matthew Hografe, wrote on Facebook: “The world has lost a great soldier and an even better person. You will never be forgotten.”