(DALLAS) — What began as a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter on the streets of Dallas ended in horror Thursday night.
Witnesses of the ambush-style shooting, which left at least five police officers dead, described how the rally started off with love and respect between demonstrators and law enforcement before it was overtaken by violence.
As in other cities across the nation, people gathered in Dallas just before 7 p.m. to protest against the recent fatal police shootings of two black men: Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
“People were upset about what happened in Baton Rouge, people were upset about what happened in St. Paul and we wanted people to have a healthy place to engage their anger, to breathe, to comfort each other, to network and this protest certainly started off as a really beautiful thing,” the Rev. Jeff Hood, an organizer of the protest, said on Good Morning America Friday. “Things went from beautiful to evil very quickly.”
Protesters said there was a sense of solidarity and peace as they marched from Belo Garden Park to the Old Red Courthouse with law enforcement supervising the rally. Officers took photos with demonstrators and were supporting their cause.
“They were really comforting us and being there for us and supporting us in our march,” Sharay Santora, a former U.S. Marine who attended the protest rally with her two children, said on Good Morning America Friday.
After reaching the courthouse and remarking on the harmonic event, the protesters decided to march back. They chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
And as night fell on the city, the pop of high-powered ammunition echoed above the marchers and across downtown Dallas.
Witnesses said the gunfire sounded like fireworks at first, but the chaotic reality quickly settled in.
“I was talking to one of the sergeants at the police department; all of a sudden I heard, ‘Pop, pop’ and I looked up and I see two bodies on the ground,” Hood said. “I was touching my body. I was touching my chest because I really felt there was a possibility that I was shot. And so, as the sergeant ran toward the shooting, I ran back to tell the crowd, ‘Back up, back up. Active shooter. Run away.’”
Officials said at least two snipers in elevated positions opened fire on police, who were protecting protesters. Some of the officers were shot in the back, police said.
Authorities negotiated with a suspect for several hours Thursday night and exchanged gunfire with him. The suspect told a hostage negotiator he was upset about the recent police shootings of black men and that he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at a news conference this morning.
The suspect also told the negotiator he was not affiliated with any groups and was acting alone. Police “saw no other option but to use our bomb robot … for it to detonate where the suspect was.” The suspect died as a result of the bomb, Brown said.
Shetamia Taylor, 37, was one of two civilians who were injured in the shooting. She was attending the protest rally with her four sons and was shot in the right calf while shielding one of them from the spray of bullets. The other three boys scattered in opposite directions, Taylor’s sister, Theresa Williams, told ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA.
“She jumped on top to cover him on the ground as she pushed him in between two cars in the curb,” Williams told WFAA. “All she could think about was her other three boys — where are they at.”
Taylor laid there protecting her 15-year-old son for about five minutes before police rescued them. The mother was undergoing surgery early this morning and is expected to recover.
“She’s not so much worried about the gunshot wound she has on her leg,” Williams told WFAA. “We’re watching the news in the hospital room, and all she can do is say, ‘Lord, be with those families of those police officers.’ And that’s what she kept repeating.”
Santora, another witnesses who attended the protest rally, expressed grief for the officers who were killed and injured in the shooting, saying hatred and violence cannot be the response to police brutality.
“We have to keep love in our hearts and we have to fight for justice, and justice isn’t an eye for an eye and a life for a life in this moment,” she said on Good Morning America.
“Those police officers were there taking care of us. Everyone in blue isn’t bad, but for those that are it makes all of us look bad if we don’t stand up for it.”
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