Police identify suspect in officer's death, downtown shootings

MPD officer struck, killed downtown
Published: Jun. 5, 2016 at 3:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2016 at 9:28 AM CDT
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MPD Officer Verdell Smith (Source: Facebook)
MPD Officer Verdell Smith (Source: Facebook)
Al Sakan (Source: Facebook)
Al Sakan (Source: Facebook)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Police Department released the name of the man they said is responsible for shooting three people and running over an officer in Downtown Memphis.

Police said Justin Welch, 21, shot three people and ran over Officer Verdell Smith late Saturday night.

Investigators said Welch shot two people at Westy's on North Main Street, then shot an employee at Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid.

A chase ensued, but police lost track of the suspect's vehicle near I-55. Officers filled the streets to search for the suspect.

Police said Welch drove to the area of Beale Street and Third Street, where his vehicle hit Officer Smith.

Click here to see photos from the scene.

Officer Smith was taken to Regional Medical Center where he later died from his injuries.

Two other people, 39-year-old Josh Walton and  57-year-old Al Sakan, were taken to the hospital in critical condition. A Bass Pro Shop employee, 21, was taken to the hospital in non-critical condition, but has since been released.

"We heard 'get down,' then in a matter of seconds there were police cars everywhere," Tim Snead, who was visiting Memphis, said. "We almost feel like it's like a war zone down here."

Witnesses said Welch was acting erratic and randomly pointing a gun at people. One witness said he had to console one of the victim's two children, while another calmed the victim down.

"A lady comes running in frantic saying, 'My husband's been shot,'" witness Michael Becker said. "Two people on the ground and blood was all over the place."

The owner of Westy's said his son chased Welch before Welch jumped a gate leading to Bass Pro Shop.

"He was a regular customer. He's a very sweet wonderful human being," Westy's owner Justin Schorr said of a victim.

Welch got out of the vehicle and ran away. Police captured him and took him to the hospital in non-critical condition.

Schorr said the gunman was talking to himself so loudly that people across the street could hear him.

"The guy was erratic in his speech and said things that didn't make sense," Schorr said.

Police said the vehicle Welch used to run over Officer Smith was stolen.

The incident has Memphians and tourists alike shaken up.

"It's sad, because you can't come down here and enjoy yourself," Camerin Hudson said.

Welch was arrested and is charged with evading arrest, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree murder: to wit in act of attempted first-degree murder (one count), theft of property over $10,000, vehicular homicide and reckless driving.

The incidents had Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams in a somber mood. He posted the following video to his Facebook, saying, "Memphis is a beautiful place. It's worth saving. We just got to step up to the plate."

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