WHITERIVER, Ariz. — A tribal police officer was fatally shot during a traffic stop on a reservation in Arizona and the suspect was killed in a subsequent shootout that left another officer wounded, officials said Friday.
Adrian Lopez Sr., 35, was identified as the White Mountain Apache Police officer shot and killed Thursday night in the town of Whiteriver on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. He had only been with the department since January, according to the Navajo County Sheriff's Office. Prior to that he served as a federal Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer from March 2021 thru December.
“There’s no possible way to try to outline the chaotic event that this was,” Chief Deputy Brian Swanty said at a news conference.
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An altercation broke out after Lopez stopped a car driven by Kevin Dwight Nashio, 25, near the downtown area, authorities said. Nashio, a resident of Whiteriver known to local police, shot Lopez, Swanty said.
Nashio took off in Lopez's marked police vehicle. Several officers pursued him through rugged areas for at least 40 miles (64 kilometers) and a “rolling gun battle” took place, according to authorities.
The suspect crashed the car into a tree near a lake that is a popular tourist draw. A second gun battle erupted that resulted in Sgt. Lonnie Thompson, 29, getting wounded and Nashio being killed.
The sergeant was airlifted to a Phoenix hospital. Swanty on Friday said his injuries “were not considered to be life-threatening but could certainly be debilitating.”
The FBI is leading the investigation into the shootings. The agency is gathering information to present to the U.S. Attorney's Office but cannot share any details, FBI Special Agent Sam Davenport said.
Swanty would not elaborate on how the suspect was already known to police. He also said it has not yet been determined why Lopez pulled him over.
Meanwhile, tribal Chairman Kasey Velasquez said all flags on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation will be flown at half-staff until further notice. He called Lopez, who leaves a behind a wife and child, “a beacon of light, a bulwark against the darkness.”
“Last night the unimaginable happened. Our hearts are once again broken by the loss of one of our best and bravest White Mountain Apache police officers,” Velasquez said.
The eastern Arizona tribe is still mourning the death a young officer from two years ago. White Mountain Apache Police Officer David Kellywood, 26, was killed in February 2020 while responding to a report of shots fired outside a casino. He struggled with a suspect who then shot him. A second officer fatally shot the suspect.
Kellywood had only been with the department for nine months.
Tribal leaders in Arizona offered condolence to the fallen officer.
“At this difficult time, the Navajo people offer our condolences for the family of the fallen officer and everyone impacted. We ask our people to offer prayers for strength and comfort for the families, officers, and the members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The Navajo Nation stands with you during this difficult time,” said Navajo Nation President Nez said in a statement.
"Beginning today, flags in the Community will fly at half-staff in honor of the bravery and sacrifice of their fallen officer. We send prayers to the White Mountain Apache Tribe Police, first responders, and families affected by this tragedy," Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said in a statement.
ICT contributed to this report.