Twenty-four evidence markers dot the path of a terror attack in Harrisburg, where a shooter targeted police and shut down streets surrounding Pennsylvania’s capital.
There are seven of those markers on the 100 block of State Street, acting as a place card for where the chaos began outside of a Catholic church just before sunset Friday.
Wedding guests were still arriving at St. Lawrence Chapel when Ahmed El-Mofty started firing gunshots into the air.
Father Joshua Brommer went toward the chapel’s open doors and looked outside. He saw El-Mofty get out of a maroon car twice and shoot, but at no point worried the church was a target.
“This clearly seemed to be about police,” the priest said.
Seconds after El-Mofty drove away from St. Lawrence, he drove toward the State Capitol Building, rounded a corner and shot several times at a Capitol Police car near Third and Walnut streets. One shot came “very close” to hitting the officer driving, but he was able to escape without injury, according to Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico.
About 30 minutes later, El-Mofty fired several shots at a Pennsylvania State Police trooper, who suffered minor injuries and was chased by the shooter more than a mile to Allison Hill.
It was in that neighborhood of the city where El-Mofty used two handguns near the intersection of 17th and Mulberry streets to open fire on police.
Officers returned fire, shooting and killing El-Mofty. There are 17 evidence markers near the place where his dead body remained for an hour, with the gun still in his hand, before the scene was cleared.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Saturday called what happened in Harrisburg a terror attack.
El-Mofty was a naturalized U.S. citizen admitted to the country from Egypt on a family-based immigrant visa, the department said.
“These incidents highlight the Trump administration’s concerns with extended family chain migration,” agency spokesman Tyler Houlton said Saturday night. “Both chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program have been exploited by terrorists to attack our country.”
Priests, city workers and residents agreed the attack on Harrisburg could’ve been much worse if it hadn’t happened three days before Christmas when lawmakers and state employees were already home for the holiday.
“Thanks be to God, this could’ve been much worse,” said Father Gregory Eichman, a priest who regularly serves at St. Lawrence.
When El-Mofty fired at the Capitol Police vehicle, the shots flew in an area often traveled by thousands of state employees, visitors and other city workers, especially after the 4 p.m. rush hour when the incident began.
Because of the holiday, that foot traffic was largely nonexistent. For the people left behind, it was chaos. Workers took cover in the Capitol vestibule until the gunshots stopped. Local restaurant managers and patrons were in shock.
“The intersection…was just flooded with cops,” said Katie Pates, an employee at Little Amps at the corner of Second and State streets, right between the first two shooting scenes. “It was just shocking, seeing all the rifles being pulled out and (having) no idea what’s going on.”
Armed officers stood in front of the Capitol for hours Friday night, red and blue police lights mixing in with the white and colored holiday lights at the state building and along State Street.
But that busy scene had changed dramatically by Saturday morning. State Street was mostly quiet. A mailman didn’t have to weave between any walkers while he pushed letters and packages up and down the sidewalks. It was a ghost town.
Questions swirled about whether it was suicide by cop or an inept attempt at terrorism. Without an official answer to that question, people placed their focus on praising police.
“The speed at which the police responded to the situation was incredible,” Brommer said. “Within moments…the entire street was secure.”
A Pennsylvania senator had stronger words.
“Last night, a monster tried to kill police officers in Harrisburg,” Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican, said in a statement. “It’s a tribute to our police that the only life lost was the shooter’s.”
The shootings Friday are a stark reminder of the dangers police and first responders face, he said. “This Christmas, say a prayer for all who keep us safe,” Toomey said.
Harrisburg Police Capt. Gabriel Olivera said, “To all the police officers who ran towards the danger last night and every night, thank you for your service.”
Thousands of supportive messages from Harrisburg and beyond poured in for police on social media, especially after the district attorney’s grim conclusion late Friday night when he identified El-Mofty as the shooter.
“It was no doubt that he was directly targeting police officers,” Marsico said.
As Harrisburg wakes up Sunday, hours after Homeland Security called the shootings a terror attack, a big question remains: Why?
The FBI, Homeland Security, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and local authorities are all trying to provide that answer.
“Federal, state and local law enforcement continue to work together to investigate last night’s attack on law enforcement,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Saturday. “I again want to thank officers who put themselves in harm’s way to prevent further injury or loss of life.”
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