PHILADELPHIA » A man using a gun stolen from police said he was acting in the name of Islam when he ambushed an officer sitting in his marked cruiser at an intersection, firing more than a dozen shots at point-blank range, authorities said Friday. Both the officer and suspect were wounded during the barrage of gunfire.
The suspect, 30-year-old Edward Archer, also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group when he was questioned after his arrest in the shooting late Thursday, police said.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross described the attack on Officer Jesse Hartnett, captured on a police surveillance camera, as an attempted assassination.
“He just came out of nowhere and started firing on him,” Ross said. “He just started firing with one aim and one aim only, to kill him.”
Ross said Archer told police he believed the department defends laws that are contrary to Islam. Police said there was no indication anyone else was involved. But Ross also said “it stands to reason there is more unknown than known.”
Though Archer “clearly gave us a motive,” Ross said it is now up to police to see what the evidence shows. “It wasn’t like laying it out completely, chapter and verse for us. We’re left to say, ‘OK, he’s leaving a trail for us. Where’s it going to lead us, if anywhere?’”
Federal agents joined local police in searching two Philadelphia area properties associated with Archer, including the home where his mother lives in the suburb of Yeadon, authorities said.
Capt. James Clark, head of the homicide unit, said Archer told investigators: “I follow Allah. I pledge my allegiance to the Islamic State and that’s why I did what I did.”
Archer’s mother, Valerie Holliday, told The Philadelphia Inquirer he has been hearing voices recently and that family asked him to get help. She also said her son felt targeted by police.
She described him as devout Muslim. Jacob Bender, the executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, said he contacted about five inner-city mosques and found no one who knew of Archer. He said at this point, the motive still appears to be conjecture.
“I think the important point is not to lay the blame for this on the entire Islamic community,” he said.
The gunman fired at least 13 shots toward Hartnett and eventually got up next to the car and reached through the driver’s-side window, investigators said.
Despite being seriously wounded, Hartnett got out of his car, chased the suspect and returned fire, wounding his attacker in the buttocks, police said. Other officers chased Archer and apprehended him.
Hartnett, 33, was shot three times in the arm and will require multiple surgeries, but was listed in stable condition. Archer was treated and released into police custody.
Ross called it “absolutely amazing” that Harnett survived. “It’s nothing short of miraculous and we’re thankful for that,” he said.
Last March, Archer pleaded guilty to firearms and assault charges stemming from a 2012 case but was immediately released and placed on probation, court records show. Records also show he was scheduled to be sentenced Monday in suburban Philadelphia in a traffic and forgery case.
The attorney who represented him in the firearms case was unavailable to comment Thursday afternoon because he was in court, his office said. A message to his lawyer in the forgery case was not immediately returned.
Surveillance footage of the attack showed Archer dressed in a white, long-sleeved tunic. When asked if the robe was considered Muslim garb, Ross said he didn’t know and didn’t think it mattered.
“We’ve already established why he believes he did it, and that’s probably enough,” Ross said.
The 9 mm pistol used by Archer was recovered at the scene of the shooting, police said. It had been stolen from an officer’s home in October 2013, investigators said. Officials said they were trying to figure how Archer got the weapon and whether it passed through other people’s hands in the time since the theft.
The officer’s father, Robert Hartnett, said his son was in good spirits.
“He’s a tough guy,” he said.
Hartnett served in the Coast Guard and has been on the Philadelphia force for four years. He always wanted to be a police officer, his father said.
When Hartnett called in to report shots fired, he shouted, “I’m bleeding heavily!” into his police radio.
Jim Kenney, in his first week as mayor of the nation’s fifth-largest city, called Archer’s actions “abhorrent” and “terrible” and said they have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam.
“This is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers,” he said. “It has nothing to do with being a Muslim or following the Islamic faith.”
In December 2014, a gunman announced online that he was planning to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for the chokehold death of Eric Garner and ambushed two New York City police officers in a patrol car, fatally shooting them before running to a subway station and killing himself. Investigators said he had no connection to terrorism.
Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Kristen de Groot contributed to this report.