Arnold, MO – An Arnold police officer was in “critical but stable condition” on Thursday morning after being shot in the head by the suspect he was transporting on Tuesday, police said.
But a few hours later on Thursday afternoon, doctors rushed Officer Ryan O'Conner back into emergency surgery.
Officer O’Connor “has a long road to recovery, and his condition could change by the hour,” police told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday.
The shooter, 29-year-old Chad Klahs, shot himself in the head immediately after shooting the officer, and was pronounced dead at 2:40 p.m. on Dec. 5, Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak said.
The incident began when a homeowner reported a burglary at 12:46 p.m., and told police that a gun had been stolen.
Homeowner Matthew Saller said he called police after he confronted a man in his backyard.
“He looked like a guy that was shaky or in trouble,” Saller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He wasn’t all there, that’s the way I’ll put it.”
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Captain Gary Higginbotham said Klahs next broke into a vehicle at a body shop, where he stole a second gun.
When police arrested Klahs at a gas station, they searched him and seized a 9mm handgun.
Police did not find the .40 caliber handgun he had stolen from the homeowner during their search, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Although he was handcuffed, Klahs managed to use the second weapon he’d concealed to shoot Officer O’Connor in the head from the back of the police SUV, before turning the gun on himself.
Officers inside the Arnold Police Department station house said they saw Officer O'Connor's SUV approaching on surveillance cameras.
When Officer O'Connor didn't come inside, officers went out and found his SUV wrecked, and both the officer and the burglary suspect suffering from gunshot wounds, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Officer O’Connor is a three-year veteran of the Arnold Police Department. He previously worked as a law enforcement officer in St. Louis County and in Ferguson.
“Officer O’Connor was a dedicated and faithful member of the Ferguson Police Department for several years and during the civil unrest of 2014,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Officer O’Connor and his family are in the thoughts and prayers of our community tonight.”
Officer O’Connor is a 44-year-old married father of four, and his wife, Barb O’Connor, is a member of the St. Louis Area Police Wives Association who has sat with other spouses of killed or wounded officers on many occasions in the past, her friends told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“He is the most amazing, dedicated, loyal police officer, father and husband,” Barb said.
Officer O’Connor’s father, former Chief Tom O’Connor, served the Maryland Heights Police Department for 27 years before his retirement in 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. He also worked for the Illinois State Police and St. Louis police.
Efforts to help support Officer O’Connor and his family are already underway.
At the local Taco Bell, a drive through operator took it upon himself to ask customers for spare change to donate to Officer O'Connor in his time of need.
"I figured an officer in my community, who comes into my restaurant and eats all the time, I have to help them and give support," Bill Grimm told Fox News.
BackStoppers, an organization that helps to provide financial assistance to families and first responders who were injured or killed in the line of duty, immediately donated $5,000 to Officer O’Connor and his family.
“It’s a tough time for police officers right now,” BackStoppers executive director Colonel Ron Battelle told KMOX. “They get criticized here and there, but the vast majority of people do support them and we see that manifest itself through BackStoppers.”
A fundraising dinner, “Dine Out for Arnold Police Officer O’Connor,” has been scheduled for Dec. 20.
As of late Thursday morning, 487 people had donated nearly $25,000 to Officer O’Connor’s Shield of Hope sponsored GoFundMe account.
Captain Higginbotham said the would-be cop killer was “well-known” to Arnold police before the shooting.
Records from the Missouri Department of Correction showed that Klahs has an extensive criminal record.
He has been in prison four times, and was most recently released in March after serving two years for theft and witness tampering, KMOV reported.
Klahs pleaded guilty to burglary charges from 2009, and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He served a little more than one year before being granted parole.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Officer O’Connor and his family, and the Arnold Police Department.