Sgt. Bruce Fairbanks of the Alexandria (La.) Police remembers the moment he realized that things were about to go bad during his tactical team’s Feb. 20 service of a high-risk warrant.
The target of the warrant was a parole violator who was suspected of the premeditated ambush of an Alexandria cop. The site was two small wood frame houses at 2316 Wise Street in an impoverished area of Alexandria called the Sonia Quarters. Alexandria PD’s Special Response Team (SRT) was executing a detailed plan to serve the warrants and search the structures for evidence to connect Anthony Molette, 25, to the ambush attack. Intelligence gathered before the assault told them that Molette would not be home.
It was wrong.
Executing the raid plan, Fairbanks split his unit into two entry teams, positioned snipers at the front and the back of the property, and took up a command position with his team’s assistant commander. Near-simultaneous raids were launched on the main house known to the officers as “the pink house” and on a smaller white structure behind it known to officers as the “junk house.”
The pink house team rammed open the door, tossed in a flash-bang grenade, and began clearing the home room to room. Everything was going according to plan. Then Fairbanks realized that something was going terribly wrong. The entry team at the front of the smaller “junk house” had just rammed the door for the fourth time and then paused. That didn’t make sense. The door on the reportedly unoccupied house was flimsy. It should have cracked open with one blow.
Fairbanks turned to his assistant commander Officer Cliff Slaughter and said, “That doesn’t sound good.”
Slaughter didn’t have a chance to respond. The entry team hit the door on the “junk house” one more time, and heavy gunfire shattered the drizzly February afternoon.
The bullets came from an AK-47 assault rifle fired by Molette who was inside the “junk house.” And they were devastating.
Officer Jeremy “Jay” Carruth—who had pushed his way into the doorway of the junk house, trying to pry it open—was hit in the cheek and the temple and fell on the porch. Behind Carruth, Officer David Ezernack was shot in the throat and fell into the yard. The remaining men in the six officer stack tossed a flash-bang into the doorway, laid down suppression fire, and took cover.
I’m Coming Out
Two officers were down. Calls were put out for assistance from surrounding tactical teams, including the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department SWAT team and the Special Operations Group of the U.S. Marshal’s Service based in nearby Pineville.
But reinforcements were at least 20 minutes out; two of their buddies were bleeding to death in the line of fire, and the men of the SRT knew they were the only force that could protect other Alexandria officers from a man who had evidently declared war on the police. They had to make a stand.
Bloodied and shocked by the ferocity of the attack, the SRT officers could have panicked. They could have turned into “cowboys” and rushed the house. They could have made a hundred wrong moves. But their training and professionalism kept them in control and working toward two key goals: rescuing their wounded friends and containing and neutralizing the threat presented by the gunman.
The pink house raid team set up an inner perimeter, taking cover in the doorway of the pink house and behind “junker” cars in the yard. The remainder of the junk house team rolled around to the right side of the junk house, taking cover behind the wall and planning their next move.
Just seconds had passed since the first shots. And the focus of the operation was now to pull Carruth and Ezernack to safety. Officer Joey Simms and Officer Jerrod King left positions of cover to make a rescue. They were met with withering fire.
“I tried to go onto the porch to get Carruth,” remembers Simms. “Then the suspect opened fire again. I was feeling debris and stuff hitting my clothes. I heard bullets zip past me. I dove off the porch to the left.”
King was pinned down next to Ezernack. He could hear the wounded man wheezing, but there was nothing he could do.
The gunman knew the SRT officers would try to rescue their buddies and he was targeting accordingly. “I laid down next to David because I could hear the rounds cracking by me,” says King. “I could feel the dirt hit me. He was targeting me and David because I think we were the only ones he could clearly see. I laid down next to David and the firing stopped for a second.”
Now minutes into the firefight, the suspect gave the SRT a ray of hope. Officers say he used a pause in the shooting to call out that he was surrendering.
“He would holler, ‘I’m coming out! I’m coming out!’ Some of the team members would yell back at him, ‘Throw the gun out. Come out with your hands up,’” says Fairbanks. “He would reply with, ‘You want me to throw the gun out and put my hands up?’ And the team would again repeat the verbal commands. And when they would announce this second set of verbal commands, Molette had pinpointed where their voices were coming from.”
Molette was using the officers’ voices to target. He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them, and every time he heard them, he sent a fusilade of 7.62mm rounds in their direction.
The gunman’s ability to target sounds was a constant concern for the officers throughout the battle. He even used it to locate the officers who had sought cover on the right side of the house. They soon found themselves pinned down, as the gunman fired down at them through a barricaded window.
SRT’s situation had grown increasingly desperate; officers were trapped against the side of the junk house; officers were pinned down next to Ezernack, and the shooting from both sides had been heavy for more than 10 minutes, so ammo was running low.
It would get worse.
Officer Slaughter moved in to try to help rescue Ezernack and was shot in the left bicep. He rolled to cover beside one of the “junker” cars. The pink house raid team behind the other junker started to move toward Slaughter, but they were ordered to stand.
Here It Comes, Guys!
Fire continued to come from the junk house. And the SRT officers knew they had to somehow regain the initiative. The officers who were pinned down at the side of the house and in the yard had to be given cover so they could pull back, and Ezernack had to be rescued.
They communicated with hand signals, and over their LASH radio headsets, and made a move.
“Here it comes, guys!” yelled one of the officers and a massive torrent of fire hit the junk house, chewing into its white wooden façade, and forcing the gunman to seek cover. At the same time, the officers at the left of the house also opened up and retreated to cover behind one of the cars, and Simms and King dragged Ezernack to safety.
Pass the Ammo
The firefight had lasted about 20 minutes at this point and ammunition was in critically short supply. Each team member carried one 30-round magazine in his primary weapon (MP5, M4, AR-15) and three spare magazines, but all the suppression fire had taken its toll and some officers were down to their last shots.
Realizing that he was too wounded to be of use in the battle, Slaughter kept one round in his Colt M4 and gave his remaining ammunition to the other men. “He started throwing magazines to us with his good right hand,” says Simms. “It was a great throw. It hit a few feet in front of me, bounced, and hit me right in the chest.”
Once Slaughter had distributed his ammo, the team laid down some cover fire, and he got up and ran to a nearby church parking lot and medical attention.
Other officers took Ezernack’s spare mags, and SRT members Cpl. Cedrick Green and Officer Jerrod King and Alexandria PD motor officer Rodney Gaspard carried him to a waiting ambulance. They then went to the command truck with Sgt. Fairbanks for ammo.
Fairbanks, Green, and King used the pink house and a beige house on the left to ferry ammo out to the team. At one point they were throwing boxes of cartridges out to the officers behind the junker cars.
Deploying the Gas
Ezernack was now out of the line of fire and Fairbanks knew there was no way for his team to reach Carruth without framing themselves in the gunman’s field of fire. He also had good reason to believe Carruth was already gone. Carruth had been shot twice in the head, and the young officer wasn’t showing any signs of life.
Fairbanks decided to deploy gas.
He grabbed the gas gun and a bag of gas grenades and moved into position in the kitchen of the beige house. From the back doorway of the beige house, he fired a gas round into one of the junk house’s windows.[PAGEBREAK]
The gunman responded with concentrated fire at Firebanks and the other officers in the beige house. His shots slammed into the kitchen appliances as the officers took cover on the floor and prepared to fire another gas round.
When the fire stopped, Fairbanks stood up behind the doorjamb, and using the maneuver called “slicing the pie” lined up another shot. He pulled the trigger and the shot found its target.
But for a split second, Fairbanks was framed in the doorway. The gunman fired, and one of his rounds shattered the glass of the beige house’s storm door, peppering Fairbank’s face and eyes with splinters, and tearing through his ear. Fairbanks was knocked down as the bullet grazed his skull. He tried to get back up but fell down. And two of his men carried him to an ambulance.
This Has Got to Stop!
Some 30 minutes earlier, 14 Alexandria SRT officers had arrived at 2316 Wise Street to serve two warrants. Four were now down. One in the doorway of the junk house, covered by the gunman’s fire in such a way that any rescue attempt would have been suicidal. Three others were on their way to the hospital.
The 10 standing SRT officers were now reinforced by Rapides Parish SWAT, but it was still primarily their fight. Tired, stunned by the violence of the last half hour, and frustrated by their inability to help their wounded buddy, they held their ground and waited.
They didn’t have to wait long.
A wild-eyed and gas-stung Molette, shirtless in camouflage pants, came out of the house spraying fire from his AK-47, which was suspended from his neck by a length of swingset chain. A blue bandana was wrapped around the forearm of the rifle.
He stood on the porch and shot at SRT sniper Darren Edwards and Rapides Parish SWAT. Edwards was hit during the exchange and Rapides SWAT operators returned fire and pulled him to safety.
Molette was driven off the porch by a hail of Rapides SWAT bullets, and he charged into the yard at the SRT officers behind one of the junker cars.
Officer Chris Wolf had taken a position in the doorway at the side of the pink house early in the fight and it was from this vantage point that he saw Molette charge his comrades who were prone behind one of the junker cars. He believes it was providence that put him in the right place at the right time, with a loaded M4.
“I had already gone to my pistol just before he came out,” explains Wolf. “I had gone through three M4 mags and through two-and-a-half pistol magazines. And just by the grace of God, I felt another 30-rounder stuck in my vest. So I jacked it in and got it set up, and two seconds after that, he came out.”
Wolf opened up on full automatic at a range of 18 to 20 feet with the lanky 6-foot, two-inch, 150-pound gunman running toward him. He watched in amazement as his .223 TAP rounds opened wounds in Molette’s legs and chest, and the gunman didn’t fall.
Molette kept coming and Wolf poured on the fire. “I kept thinking, this has got to stop,” he says. “I mean, that’s the only thing that goes through your mind is, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! This has to stop!’ And he was still coming at us. It’s just hard to believe.”
Even harder to believe because Wolf wasn’t the only officer firing.
Alerted by Wolf’s shots, the four officers behind the car—Officer Chris Cooper, Cpl. Pat VanDyke, Officer Darrel Bradley, and Officer Joey Simms—were also shooting at Molette with 12-gauge slugs and 40-caliber MP5s. And despite all this punishment, he was still shooting back.
“His shots missed my face by a couple of inches,” says Officer Chris Cooper. “His shots busted the taillight of the car, and the glass actually shattered off the taillight and hit me in the face. We opened up on him and he just kept firing. He wouldn’t go down. I didn’t know if the rounds that we were shooting at him were holding him up or what. He kept running; he kept firing. He hit the ground and was still firing.”
Simms adds, “As I looked up, Molette appeared and he was running. He was running as fast as he could, firing and turning toward us. He was probably only 10 or 15 feet away and firing that AK in our faces, and we all just started returning fire at him.”
It was a horrific moment that lingers in the memories of all the men who were in the battle, some of whom still see Molette in their nightmares. “When he came around that car, he looked like a 10-foot-tall monster to me. I remember seeing the flash of his muzzle and feeling the concussion,” says Simms.
Cooper characterizes Molette as “pure evil” during the firefight. “When he came out, he must have thought he was untouchable. Either that or he just didn’t care. I can remember everything about him when he came out. I can actually watch him being hit.”
It’s estimated that Molette was hit 40 times, including three center mass shots with 12-gauge slugs before he fell. Consequently, some of the officers involved in the shootout believe he was on PCP or other mind-altering substances. Unfortunately, their suspicions can never be confirmed because of a medical examiner’s error.
Not Over Yet
Despite the fact that the threat from Anthony Molette had been eliminated, the SRT team held their positions for another five to 10 minutes. They believed because of the volume of fire that had come from the junk house that they were dealing with a second shooter.
But Anthony Molette acted alone.
Five to 10 minutes after the gunman bled out and expired, a decision was made to clear the junk house. With the remaining members of the SRT team providing cover, Rapides Parish SWAT and the U.S. Marshal Service recovered the body of Officer Jay Carruth, and entered the junk house.
Inside, the deputies discovered that Molette or someone had fortified the interior by nailing two-by-fours and old wooden doors over key ports of entry. The windows were also covered with plastic sheeting so that the occupants could stand at them and remain unseen.
Tragedy and Recovery
Jay Carruth was pronounced dead on arrival. David Ezernack was mortally wounded in the firefight. He died some five hours later in a local hospital.
Wounded SRT members Sgt. Bruce Fairbanks and Officer Daren Edwards have returned to duty and to the SRT team. Officer Cliff Slaughter suffers great pain from the wound that he received in his left bicep and is still recuperating.
Despite the casualties, Fairbanks says he believes the actions of his team were professional and necessary, and he doesn’t know what he could have changed in the assault plan to prevent the tragedy. He adds that he has requested an armored vehicle from the city council and believes it could have made a great difference on Feb. 20.
But armored vehicle or not, a gunbattle like the shootout on Wise Street turns on the courage and discipline of the officers involved. And Fairbanks says he is very proud of his SRT.
“Even in the absence of myself and assistant commander Slaughter, this team stood together and exchanged shots with this guy when he came out,” he says. “They maintained professionalism and fire discipline, and that made all the difference.”