ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 911 call that first told Albuquerque police about the ambush that law enforcement officers encountered last Saturday got almost all of the shocking details right: A masked man was waiting for police, dressed in body armor and camouflage, wielding an assault rifle.
It was the detail the caller got wrong that lends more insight into how Christopher Chase, 35, was able to steal a police vehicle, shoot three APD officers and a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy, and lead law enforcement on a massive chase that morning.
At a news briefing Saturday morning, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Allen Banks said the initial call gave the wrong Broadway Boulevard intersection as the site where Chase was waiting for officers. The first officer to arrive sped south on Broadway only to encounter Chase a few blocks earlier than he thought he would.
Banks also gave more details about each phase of the police chase, which began near Broadway and Iron in southeast Albuquerque before going as far west as Rio Grande Boulevard and as far north as Ranchitos Road, ending with Chase’s death at Fourth and Montaño in the North Valley. Detectives have still not found a clear motive for Chase’s acts, apart from friends who said Chase had a long hatred of police.
Chase was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and a pistol, and was found with 357 unfired rounds in a black bag he carried, Banks said. Letters addressed to Chase’s friends that were found in his home made it clear that Chase intended to die that day.
The Sheriff’s Office also announced Saturday that deputy Robin Hopkins, who was badly injured in the shooting, was released from the Intensive Care Unit at the University of New Mexico Hospital. She’s still facing multiple surgeries on her leg and a few more weeks in the hospital, according to sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Aaron Williamson.
Banks credited one police sergeant who he said was crucial in preventing more destruction and injuries to bystanders. APD Sgt. Shawn Lockey was the lead pursuer in the trail of cars chasing the gunman, and he was the first to attend to Hopkins, who was found unconscious after being shot in the leg. Lockey gave Hopkins CPR before she was rushed to the nearby Bernalillo County Fire Department building.
At 11:20 a.m. on Oct. 26, an initial 911 caller said that Chase was waiting for police at Avenida César Chávez and Broadway SE, so APD officer Eric Martinez sped south toward him. On the way there, a sergeant told officers not to approach the suspect, and the APD K9 and SWAT teams were called, in addition to a general call for officers with long guns. An officer was also stationed at a nearby bridge to see if he could spot Chase from a distance.
However, any effort toward evading Chase’s trap failed as Martinez headed south on Broadway and encountered Chase several blocks before he was supposed to, at Broadway and Iron.
Chase immediately began firing at Martinez, who decided to leave the cover of his police vehicle because there were bystanders behind him, Banks said. He darted east from his vehicle to take cover behind other cars, and that’s when a bullet Chase fired grazed the officer’s leg.
Chase then got into Martinez’s police vehicle and drove north on Broadway, beginning the chase.
At the news conference, Banks did not say whether more than one 911 call came in with erroneous information or how police strategy changed when officials discovered the error.
Banks also declined to say what the command staff’s general strategy was in dealing with the rapidly evolving situation, saying that relaying information about police tactics could tip off criminals to the department’s methods for dealing with active shooters and police chases.
As Chase drove north on Broadway between Lead and Coal, he shot APD officer Matt Hannum in the leg as Hannum drove toward the scene. Three officers came to his aid, Banks said, and one of them removed his gunbelt and wrapped it around the officer’s leg as a tourniquet.
Two additional officers carried Hannum to a building out of harm’s way.
Soon after, APD officer Daniel Morales was heading south on Broadway to respond to the shooting when he saw an APD cruiser coming toward him with the lights flashing. He slowed down, Banks said, thinking he had somehow missed the suspect.
Chase then fired at him when the police vehicles were side by side, shooting Morales’ leg through the door, near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Broadway. An APD officer then rushed Morales to Lovelace Hospital, where he was treated before being sent to the University of New Mexico Hospital.
Chase then continued to lead officers on a pursuit that went west to Rio Grande and north to Ranchitos. Banks said there was no opportunity to “pit” Chase – meaning ramming into the back of his car to stop him – because of the proximity to other officers and bystanders.
He also credited Lockey for instructing his fellow officers to avoid a collision, particularly as the pursuit headed near Rio Grande and Griegos NW, where an art festival was happening with a lot of people.
“Sgt. Lockey did a fantastic job advising not to pit the vehicle because of the dangerous chase and also because of the pedestrians that are at that location,” Banks said.
When Chase turned south on Fourth Street from Ranchitos, he encountered two sheriff’s deputies heading north. There, Chase shot deputy Robin Hopkins in her police cruiser as he passed, Banks said.
Lockey then pulled out from the front of the pursuit when he saw Hopkins’ vehicle drifting. He found her unconscious in her car and administered CPR, Banks said.
Hopkins was shot at Fourth and Schulte across the street from the Bernalillo County Fire Department building. She was taken to UNMH.
When Chase approached Solar and Fourth Street, an APD officer tried to shoot at Chase’s car tires with his shotgun, Banks said. Chase returned fire and barely missed the officer’s head, he said.
Chase eventually crashed the police cruiser at a gas station at Fourth and Montaño. Police fired at him there, Banks said. It’s unclear whether he killed himself or was killed by officers, though he did suffer gunshot wounds.
In total, six law enforcement officers fired their weapons, Banks said.
Police later the same day executed a search warrant for Chase’s house, located about five blocks from where the shooting and pursuit started. There, detectives discovered fake booby traps, empty ammunition boxes and letters Chase had written to his friends.
Banks said the department will move forward in dealing with the trauma of seeing officers injured.
“We’ll continue to heal. We’ll continue to be strong,” Banks said. “We’ll continue to be vigilant, and we will work through this incident.”