Tragedy struck the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on Thursday when 24-year-old officer Breann Leath died in a shooting, the department’s first line-of-duty death in more than five years.
Leath, who worked on the East District, had joined two other officers in responding to a domestic violence call at an apartment complex in the 1800 block of Edinburge Square shortly before 3 p.m.
As she approached the apartment, someone fired shots through the door, hitting Leath, police said. A woman at the apartment also was struck. The other two officers pulled both Leath and the other woman down a staircase and away from the apartment.
The other woman is expected to survive her injuries. Leath did not.
“For so many of us, danger is a thing to be avoided,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at Eskenazi Hospital. “Not so for Officer Breann Leath. That’s because rather than turn away, Officer Leath turned toward the danger. She heard the call and she went bravely toward that which could do her harm. Because she knew if she didn’t, harm may come to others.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb, in a statement, said he and First Lady Janet Holcomb were heartbroken to learn of the news: “I ask every Hoosier to join me in honoring Officer Leath’s courageous service and dedication to her community. She will be forever remembered for being the finest among us.”
Investigators were questioning one suspect Thursday, but IMPD officers shared few other details about the ongoing investigation or the tragedy they were experiencing.
News of Leath’s death came as another shockwave in a city already grappling with mounting deaths, growing challenges and an emerging financial crisis because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hogsett, Chief Randal Taylor and other IMPD leadership, many wearing protective masks, braced against cold, gusty winds while standing outside the hospital on Thursday, where they were forced to deliver the grim news of Leath’s death to a wary public.
Long line of public service
Leath, just 2 ½ years into her IMPD career, came from a family steeped in public service. Her mother is a longtime public safety dispatcher, police said, and her father is a reserve deputy at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Leath grew up dreaming of one day becoming a police officer.
A graduate of Southport High School and a member of the U.S Army National Guard, Taylor said, Leath will be remembered as a dedicated public servant with a heart for the community.
“She is the example of the type of officer we want on this department,” Taylor said.
Leath also leaves behind a young son, who she bragged about routinely on her social media accounts. Only a few weeks ago, Leath taught her son how to ride a bicycle for the first time.
Fellow officers described her as charismatic and caring. Her personality shined on social media, where she occasionally posted videos of herself in uniform lip-syncing and dancing and talked about singing karaoke.
As word of Leath’s death spread Thursday afternoon, law enforcement officers across Central Indiana were updating their social media pictures to display a black line across a police badge — a symbol of appreciation for the sacrifice she made.
Rick Snyder, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 86, which represents IMPD officers, said the department had the full support of his organization and despite limitations because of the coronavirus, Leath will be honored appropriately.
“As a personal note,” Snyder said, “we would ask humbly that our residents, as they always do … .”
Then, his voice caught.
“… step forward and reaffirm your support for our officers who continue to stand the line.”
“We’ve been talking about it during this COVID experience that our officers’ resolve is intact, they have not wavered, nor will they, and their resolve will continue.”
In the hour after the shooting, at least 30 police cars were seen crowded into the area near the apartment Thursday afternoon. They were stacked side by side to block travel into parts of the complex and atop grassy medians that ran perpendicular to the apartment buildings.
Investigators hung crime tape alongside one building.
Few people were seen walking along the sidewalks or driving on the roads amid the complex, but a few residents took to their balconies to watch investigators.
Other officers killed in line of duty
Leath is the first Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer to be killed in the line of duty since July 2014, when Officer Perry Wayne Renn, a 22-year IMPD veteran, was shot and killed by 25-year-old Major Davis on the city’s east side.
Davis was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 without the possibility of parole.
IMPD Officer Rod Bradway was killed on the northwest side on Sept. 20, 2013. He, too, was responding to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex. Bradway, 41, was shot as he entered the apartment by Stephen Byrdo, 24, who was hiding behind the door. Byrdo was fatally shot by another responding officer.
Leath is the 11th police officer to die in the line of duty in Indiana in the past decade. Most recently, Terre Haute police Officer Robert Pitts died in May 2018.
Pitts was fatally shot as he and other officers approached a suspect who later died after barricading himself inside an apartment, Associated Press reported. In March 2018, Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Pickett was shot and killed while pursuing Anthony Baumgardt, who later pleaded guilty to killing Pickett and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
IMPD has not released additional information about the nature of the disturbance that led to the call that took Leath’s life, nor have they identified the individual taken into custody.
The city had been planning to flood Monument Circle and other Indianapolis buildings with blue light, Hogsett said, honoring the first responders who were working to keep residents safe amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Now, the significance of those lights will hang heavy over Indianapolis.
“Light a candle, say a prayer, hug your family,” Hogsett said. “And in that moment, remember how lucky we are to have brave men and brave women like Officer Leath.”
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