BILLINGS – A man is dead following a dangerous standoff that lasted nine hours Saturday.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John confirmed the suspect drove an SUV through the front entrance of the Big Bear Sports Center on King Avenue West around 3 a.m.
The store was not open at the time and no one was inside.
The suspect reportedly came from Wal-Mart where employees had kicked him out of the store for attempting to steal firearms, according to police.
MTN News spoke with a Wal-Mart employee who saw the suspect attempt to gain access to the gun case at the store early this morning. The employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the man appeared to be impaired. The suspect was told to leave and had to be chased out of the store.
Officers who arrived on scene were shot at by the suspect. Several volleys of gunfire were exchanged.
“We had random intermittent gun shots from inside the store, they were of all caliber, small and large as we could tell from the sound,” St. John said.
He said at least seven officers discharged weapons over the course of the standoff.
No officers were hit but a police vehicle was struck by the gunfire. Soon after the initial gunfire, police parked several city dump trucks outside the entrance to help prevent stray bullets from reaching King Avenue.
“At one point we thought he was going to give himself up. He exited or started to exit from the east door or next to the pet smart,” St. John said. “He showed his hands initially. Retreated into the building and then the next thing we saw was a rifle barrel that was pointed in the direction of officers.”
Police attempted to negotiate with the suspect using a bullhorn. At one point, the Bear armored vehicle cleared the front entrance fully to allow officers a better view of inside the store.
Several flashbangs were deployed throughout the standoff. The suspect remained uncooperative through the negotiating process despite numerous attempts to end the standoff peacefully.
Police were able to get visual confirmation of the suspect through security cameras inside the store.
“We saw that he was not moving, after thirty minutes we sent our robot in to double check. Previously he had fainted and was going to give up so we didn’t want to put anybody at risk, the robot went in to make an assessment. We sent our tactical team in with the sheriffs office to verify that the individual was down and then clear the rest of the store.”
Big Bear suffered significant damage to the store including the entrance. St. John said the store had water damage and a gas leak. Police are in contact with the owners of the store.
“We have, you know a crime scene here we’ll have to deal with, so our detectives are going to be working through the entire store. I have no idea what our suspect did while he was in the store, don’t know what damage if any. You know obviously he access to weapons and he used them so he may have spent some time back in the gun section. These are all things are going to come out in the investigation.”
It is now a crime scene and officers will be combing the store for evidence as well as assessing any further damage. It’s not clear if police shot and killed the suspect or if died by self-inflicted gunshot.
The suspect was not identified.
MTN’s Dustin Klemann