RAINIER, Ore. – Rainier police chief Ralph Painter responded to a call about an attempted car theft at 10:47 a.m. Less than an hour later he was dead from a gunshot wound — this town's first officer to die in the line of duty.
What happened inside the stereo-installation business where Painter was killed Wednesday morning remains shrouded behind the investigation into Painter's death, but police disclosed some details and said that an area man was in custody in a Portland hospital, injured by a police bullet.
Painter went to a strip mall to look into a report of an attempted car theft, where he found a man inside the business garage. Police said he struggled with the suspect, identified as Daniel A. Butts, 21, who allegedly fatally shot the chief.
Police from nearby Oregon and Washington agencies, some armed with assault rifles, descended on the strip mall one block from the banks of the Columbia River.
"They started yelling at him to drop the weapon, which we hadn't seen because he was on the far side of the vehicle," said the Rev. Jeff McCracken of the Rainier Assembly of God.
The bullets flew, although Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson refused to say whether the suspect was armed, or whether he had shot Painter with his own gun or Painter's service weapon.
"A round came through the window that I was looking through, about six inches above my head where I'd just been standing," McCracken said. "There's gunfire going off from the police officers, as well, so we just got out of there as quickly as we could."
Authorities said Butts, of nearby Kalama, Wash., was hit but expected to recover.
The killing of the popular police chief stunned the town of 1,800 along the Columbia River, while family members of the suspect expressed regret at his death and surprise over Butts' alleged actions.
Sharon Adena, 29, Butts' half-sister, told the Oregonian she was raised in Rainier and knew the Painter family.
"I grew up across the street from the Painters. Ralph Painter's son was a good friend of mine," she told the newspaper. "I know Ralph Painter didn't deserve that. Everyone in this family knows that."
She said her family was absolutely surprised at what had occurred, saying it was completely out of character for her brother, who lives with his father in Kalama. She said Butts has a high IQ and was a "normal kid in a small town."
Butts' father, Mikel Butts, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview he saw his son Wednesday morning. He said neither the hospital nor law enforcement would tell him much.
"I've been led to believe that he's probably going to live," the elder Butts said. He said Painter did not deserve to die. "I'm sorry for his family."
The suspect's mother, Della Bartley of Rainier, told KATU: "I realize he shot a police officer, and bless the police officer's soul, but also bless my son."
Several people in town watched the violent drama unfold.
Traci Brumbles was in her liquor store about 50 yards from the stereo business and noticed the unmarked cruiser of the friendly police chief parked outside.
Just before 11 a.m., she saw two police cars speed to the store front and watched officers emerge, first crouching behind their open car doors, then slowly advancing.
Car after car zipped past her, and a police SUV blocked one entrance to the stereo business, Rainier Sound Authority.
There were maybe 30 officers, some with assault rifles.
Dusty Rockwood, who works on tires at the Exhaust Shop and Tire Center next door, was startled when a customer and a Sound Authority employee sprinted into his garage.
"There's someone with a gun in the store and the cops are here," Rockwood said they told him.
A minute passed. They heard someone shout "drop the gun." Seconds later, they heard gunfire.
Brumbles saw the muzzles on their gun barrels light up.
"Oh my God, they're shooting!" she shouted to her husband. "They're shooting a lot!"
The suspect was hauled out. Brumbles couldn't make out much about him. Minutes later, a helicopter landed in a wide field about 20 yards from the store and flew Painter to a Longview, Wash., hospital.
Painter was a veteran of the five-man Rainier Police Department who had risen to chief five years ago.
He was a family man who loved to camp, said Larry Gates, 67, a friend who owns Rainier Appliance. He had one young child and several adult children, Gates said.
"He was one of those policemen that's got a lot of compassion," Gates said. "Everybody liked Ralph. He was always there to help somebody in need. If a family needed help, he was there. If somebody from the church needed help, he was there to help."
Gates said Rainier has very little crime and he's never felt unsafe.
"We can always replace the chief of police here in town, but we'll never replace Ralph," Gates said. "He's one of a kind."
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