By Ron Todt And Matt Rourke, The Associated Press on February 7, 2024.
EAST LANSDOWNE, Pa. (AP) – At least six people were unaccounted for after two police officers were wounded by gunfire Wednesday at a home in suburban Philadelphia that was then set on fire and consumed by the flames, authorities said.
Officers from East Lansdowne, Lansdowne and Upper Darby responded to the house in East Lansdowne in the afternoon after a 911 call reporting that an 11-year-old girl had been shot, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said.
They immediately came under fire. One officer was shot in the arm and the other in the leg, officials said. They were both described by Stollsteimer as male, veteran officers. One works for the East Lansdowne department, the other for Lansdowne.
Officers from Upper Darby saved their lives by dragging them out of danger, he added, and “we expect them to be perfectly fine.”
The house was then set on fire, he said. Intense flames were initially seen rising from the roof and top floor of the three-story home before spreading to the lower levels, largely gutting the structure.
Stollsteimer said later Wednesday that six to eight people, including children, were unaccounted for.
“Our fear is there may be multiple people inside that home who have died,” he said. “We are hopeful that that is not true.”
He said the fire was still smoldering and no one would be able to search the site until Thursday.
There was no more information about the child who was reported wounded. The whereabouts of the person who fired at the officers also weren’t clear, but Stollsteimer said there were “no threats to the community from that house.”
By evening the blaze appeared to have been all but extinguished, with smoke still rising from the wreckage as firefighters worked the scene. The side of a neighboring home was also charred.
The entire block was evacuated, according to the district attorney.
Upper Darby Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt described a volatile and dangerous scene when officers from his department officers responded to the home and were able to rescue the two wounded agents.
“All officers that were on scene initially were taking on fire, and then when they removed themselves from it, there was no more gunfire at that point,” Bernhardt said.
A WPVI-TV helicopter over the scene captured officers with ballistic shields dragging an officer down a sidewalk to an ambulance.
Stollsteimer said he had seen the wounded officers at the hospital and they were doing well. Their names haven’t been released.
The Rev. Moses Dennis, pastor at the nearby Faith Immanuel Lutheran Church, said he and others put the church and its child care center on lockdown when they saw police running down the street. They were later able to evacuate the children safely, he said, but everyone was still in shock.
“The staff here were able to get their vehicles so they can go home and try to process everything, because it is like a trauma,” Dennis said.
East Lansdowne is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) west of downtown Philadelphia.
This story has been updated to correct that one of the officers is with the East Lansdowne department and the other is with Lansdowne.
Todt reported from Philadelphia.