HOUSTON — The hunt is on for one of two suspects who shot two Houston police officers, critically injuring one, during a shootout in southwest Houston Tuesday. Crime Stoppers and The 100 Club are offering $20,000 to track the man down and get him off the streets.
Officers with the Houston Police Department were responding to a burglary in progress call shortly after 11 a.m. at a home in the 8700 block of Sterlingame Street near Wrenthrope.
A resident told officers that his backyard shed was suspiciously open, and HPD Officer Ronny Cortez, who lived just a few doors down from the home, Officer Jose Munoz and others went to investigate.
"There was a storage shed where a door was a ajar-- and the resident wisely advised us that was suspicious," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press conference. "Two officers actually jumped the fence, and went into that backyard when a male Hispanic suspect opened the door, came out and opened fire on our officers."
Cortez, 49, was shot in the stomach and back, and Munoz, 34, was shot in the leg and foot.
"They didn't cower. They didn't run away. They stayed in the fight," Acevedo said about the brave officers.
Officers returned fire, hitting one of the suspects, who died at the scene.
Cortez, a 24-year veteran of the force, was taken to Memorial Hermann Trauma Center in critical condition with a bullet lodged near his spine. Munoz, a 10-year veteran, was taken to Ben Taub Hospital in stable condition.
The other suspect got away.
An extensive manhunt was immediately launched in the Glenshire neighborhood.
Jeff Perry lives in the neighborhood. He said he and several others heard multiple gunshots near Shelwick Drive before being told to go inside. Moments later, other officers and SWAT crews arrived.
"It was like directly down the street from me," Perry said. "They got K-9 dogs, all types of officers and other officer enforcement. They've got helmets and such, and automatic rifles."
While speaking on the phone with NewsFix, an officer approached Perry and told him they were going to start knocking on doors. Officers also instructed residents to take their pets inside their homes.
Other residents talked about the ordeal.
"It's crazy. I never thought that I'd wake up to this in my neighborhood," one resident said.
"I mean, it was hectic!" another resident, Craig Davis, remarked. "It was real hectic. Everybody everywhere, police is all over."
"There was a lot of shooting going on between some officers and some people out there, and that some officers did get hit," Tancey Rogers told reporters on the scene.
A shelter-in-place alert was issued for at least 1,800 homes in the southwest Houston area and three nearby schools -- Valley West Elementary School, Gross Elementary School and Welch Middle School -- were placed on lockdown. The lockdown was later lifted after the search turned up empty.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke with media about the conditions of the injured officers, asking for special prayers for Cortez, who may now be paralyzed.
"He [Cortez] was able to visit with his wife and they were able to exchange words, but his situation is critical and there is a bullet that is still lodged close to his spine," Turner said during a press conference. "Pray for both officers and for them to have a complete recovery, but certainly pray for the officer that's in critical condition right now."
Despite his injury, Cortez's brother said the officer is keeping his attitude upbeat.
“He’s been in extremely good spirits considering he’s been shot multiple times. His first words to me were, ‘Well, at least I get to build up my upper body now,” Danny Cortez said.
Jose Munoz's wife described the moment she heard the news.
“It’s a call that no one is ready for,” Jasmine Munoz said. “You know that it might happen, but you don’t expect it. We’re in good hand for sure. And we thank everybody, they’ve been amazing.”
She said they are pulling their strength from within.
“Faith is everything. If you don’t have faith, you don’t have a spirit,” Jasmine Munoz said. “I just wanted to see him. We’re OK. And that’s OK."
Houston City Council shared its condolences, sending out the following message to be shared across social media.
HPD Chief Art Acevedo sent a message via Twitter, urging residents to shelter in place and outsiders to avoid the area.
The shelter in place included the following area:
The suspect police are searching for was wearing all-black clothing, and a blue bandana. A reward has been offered for his capture.