A man suspected of robbing a pharmacy and shooting an Auburn police officer died Friday night in a fire after a dramatic confrontation with local, state and federal law enforcement that involved the deployment of tear gas and distraction devices.
Police believe the suspect, Christopher James Wallace, 38, died in a fire at Crossland Downs condos after he and a woman who was with him refused to exit the apartment when a heavily armed police force descended on their location.
The complex is near Auburn University's veterinary school, and the school went into lockdown as the altercation happened.
The fire engulfed a building at the condo complex.
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Police say Wallace shot a police officer multiple times outside the Dollar General on Opelika Road Friday at about 6 p.m. The officer, now identified as Justin Sanders, tried to make a traffic stop related to a reported robbery on Dean Road.
The woman, who has not been identified, was with him in the car and is also believed to be dead in the fire. Two others in the building who are believed to be relatives of Wallace were able to escape the building. Police said they were taken into custody.
Sanders was taken to East Alabama Medical Center initially and later transported to UAB Friday night by ambulance and a law enforcement escort, WRBL first reported.
Auburn police confirmed Saturday he remains in stable condition at UAB in Birmingham.
"We are thankful this morning that Officer Sanders is recovering from his injuries received in the line of duty last night," Anders said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as he recovers. As a community, I know you join me in thanking him in the bravery that he and those that came to his aid displayed in protecting and serving all of us. I know his family is hurting that this happened. So are we all. We will continue to pray that his recovery is as swift as possible."
Update 3:45 p.m. Sunday
Police identified the officer, who sustained serious injuries during a traffic stop of a robbery suspect, as Officer Justin Sanders, 30, from Auburn.
Updated 12:00 p.m. Saturday
The Lee County Coroner has released more details about the death of the shooting suspect Christopher James Wallace, 38, and a woman who was with him Friday night as he attempted to evade police.
After Wallace and the unidentified female subject refused to exit an apartment on Wireroad and Stonegate Drive, a fire broke out in the apartment. Coroner Bill Harris said the Auburn Fire Division responded to extinguish the fire, but members of the coroner's office located their deceased bodies in the back room of the condo apartment once the fire was out.
"Lee County Coroner Bill Harris pronounced both subjects dead at the scene at 11:55 p.m.," the coroner's office said in a statement. "The bodies of the two subjects, a white male, believed to be Christopher James Wallace and an unknown white female, were removed from the fire rubble."
The bodies will be taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery for a postmorten exam to determine the cause of death and positive identification. The State Bureau of Investigations is now in charge of the investigation at Auburn police's request.
The state fire marshall's office has also been on the scene. The case is still under investigation.
Updated at 10:55 p.m. Friday
Auburn police have given an all clear after a dramatic manhunt for a suspect believed to be responsible for shooting a police officer in Auburn Friday night. The suspect is dead, police said.
The incident ended with dozens of shots fired near Auburn's Veterinary School and an apartment complex near the area. The shooting suspect is believed to have died in a fire at the apartment on Wire Road and Stonegate Drive as police confronted him, police said.
After the chase, when police confronted the suspect at the complex in Wire Road, the suspect shot at officers. Police deployed tear gas and distraction devices. Police Capt. Lorenza Dorsey said the suspects refused to exit the apartment as it was catching fire.
Police identified the suspect as Christopher James Wallace, 38. Wallace is not from the Auburn area, police said.
Police could not say at this point what caused the fire.
"While attempting to make a tactical entry into the residence, the suspect shot at officers, who returned gunfire," Dorsey said at the 10:50 p.m. press conference. "Two uninvolved occupants exited the residence uninjured and were detained. After being ordered to exit the apartment, the suspects failed to do so. Tear gas and distraction devices were deployed into the residence; however, the suspects refused to exit. Shortly after, a fire erupted inside the apartment. Officers continued to secure the area; however, the suspects never emerged from the apartment, which became fully engulfed in fire. The suspects are believed to have perished in the fire."
The Auburn Fire Division responded and attempts were made to put out the fire.
Dorsey said police are just happy the long night is over.
"It's like we talked about before, this individual posed a danger to the public," Dorsey said. "We're thankful that it's over at this point."
Dorsey said the officer who was wounded by gunfire in a shooting earlier Friday evening by the Opelika Road Dollar General is in stable condition.
"We're extremely happy he's in stable condition," Dorsey said. "He's been with the department for four or five years. Other than that we don't want to get into a lot of details."
He remains at East Alabama Medical Center with his family, police said.
Dorsey said the officer was struck "multiple times" by a shooter stopped at the Dollar General on Opelika Road. The officer tried to make a traffic stop after a robbery was reported near the 400 block of Dean Road.
A white female was also in the vehicle with Wallace. She is also believed to have died in the fire at the complex.
Matt Pate, a resident at the apartment complex, Crossland Downs, where the activity ensued, said he witnessed part of the incident.
He heard loud bangs and told his wife to get down. The building next to them caught fire.
Galina Pate, Matt's wife, was in tears as she rushed with her dog and two cats toward the Vet School.
“This was the safest neighborhood," Galina said. "We never expected anything like this to happen.”
The Vet School is reportedly accepting evacuees who had to leave their apartment complex because of the shooting, fire and investigation.
The area is still cordoned off. Police said the fire will likely smolder all night, and it's still hot. Parts of Stonegate Drive will remain closed for the night but Wire Road will reopen soon.
Ben Peterson, junior in wildlife and ecology, said he was finishing a paper due at midnight when “all hell broke loose.”
“I heard the shots, and I dropped everything," Peterson said. "I was just trying to stay aware.”
The investigation is ongoing. The Auburn Police Division, the Opelika Police Department, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Lee County District Attorney’s Office and the US Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force are involved.
Other assisting agencies are the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
Auburn Campus Safety said in a Tweet that police have given an all clear. A police presence will remain and the scene will likely remain blocked off.
A massive manhunt has been launched. Police armed with assault weapons were at an active scene on Wire Road near the veterinary school and an apartment complex across the street.
It's unclear if the suspect has been apprehended or neutralized. Firetrucks are on the scene near Wire Road and smoke is in the air, though it's unclear if the smoke is related.
The vet school was put on lockdown when activity moved to the area and gunshots were fired.
Police say the officer, who has been with the department for four to five years, will likely make a recovery. He was alert when taken to East Alabama Medical Center for treatment. He has not been identified.
Anyone who sees the suspect, Christopher James Wallace, should call 911. Do not approach.
Dorsey said police are searching for the white male wearing a camouflage hoodie. He was driving a Silver 2006 Jeep Liberty, though it's unclear if he is still in that vehicle.
Auburn police confirmed an initial email from Auburn University's Campus Safety.
Dozens of Auburn police officers and other law enforcement responded to a reported shooting at the Dollar General on Opelika Road at about 6 p.m. Police were still searching for the suspect.
Crime scene tape is still up around the scene at Dollar General and markers are on the ground indicating ballistic evidence in the store's parking lot. A police cruiser was parked in the center of the parking lot with the door ajar.
"Police searching for suspect, believed to be in a silver Jeep Liberty, Alabama tag 6AB5267," Campus Safety sent in an email to students. "Suspect is a white male wearing a camo hoodie. If you see this vehicle or suspect, do not approach and call Auburn Police at 911."
Ambulances were seen leaving the scene at Dollar General earlier tonight.
Several portions of Opelika Road have been closed down.
Mutual aid has been called in. Opelika police, the Lee County Sheriff's Office, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Lee County District Attorney's Office are also on the scene.
Community Reporter Cory Blackmon and Enterprise Editor Eduardo Medina reported from the scene.
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