COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County deputies say they were shot at by a man who the sheriff says intentionally tried to kill his officers by luring them to a home in northeast Columbia.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott held a news conference Wednesday afternoon where he updated a situation that occurred in the Carriage Oaks Subdivision off Clemson Road hours early.
"We're lucky we didn't lose [an officer] today," Lott said in summing up the incident
Around 5:30 a.m., Lott says they got an emergency call for help from a man who said a woman was being assaulted inside a home. Three officers arrived at the home but when they located a woman there, she told them that nothing was wrong and that she had "no clue" why they would have been called to the home.
The deputies then started to leave the location. One of the officers, Deputy Joseph Shannonhouse got in his car and as he began driving by the home, a man began firing shots at the vehicle, with at least one round coming through a passenger window and shattering the glass, and finally lodged in the dashboard. The glass hit the deputy in the eyes.
The deputy did a quick U-turn to get away from harm.
The other two officers had not gotten in their cars when the shooting began but then sought cover from the gunfire. Lott says in total, about 15 rounds were fired at them.
Additional officers were called to the scene. When the gunfire stopped, Lott said deputies began searching for the person and found a man dead in front of one of the homes nearby. The man, who Lott identified as 25-year-old Frederic Westfall, was wearing full tactical gear and had an assault rifle, according to the sheriff.
Lott said they believe the man took his own life, since his officers never fired. "They never had a chance to fire, they never saw anybody to even shoot at," Lott said. "All they knew was that bullets were flying."
Lott said his investigators believe Westfall was the one who placed the initial false 911 call to get officers to come to the scene.
Lott said he doesn't know why the man targeted them.
"He wasn't there for a cup of coffee," Lott said. "He was there to shoot at them."
Shannonhouse was taken to the hospital where the glass was removed. Lott said officer's eyes are okay. Shannonhouse is receiving counseling about the encounter.
"We were very lucky," Lott said. "This was an ambush. An ambush to kill cops."
The sheriff said there were no previous encounters between his officers and Westfall.