AURORA, Colo. — A shelter-in-place ordered for residents just west of Aurora Central High School Wednesday night was lifted nearly nine hours after multiple suspects and police offices exchanged gunfire at a shopping center parking lot.
"Some people tried to murder Aurora police officers," Aurora Police Interim Chief Dan Oates said to open a press conference Thursday.
Oates said the incident began Wednesday night when officers with the Direct Action Response Team (DART) were following a confirmed stolen white Kia Optima. The team was relaunched in June and is tasked with targeting violent crime in the city.
Aurora police, along with fellow law enforcement agencies in the Denver metro, have determined stolen vehicles are often associated with violent crime, according to Oates.
The DART team began following the Kia, which pulled into the King Soopers parking lot at East 6th Avenue and Peoria Street around 9:45 p.m. That's when the Kia's occupants opened fire at an unmarked Aurora police car, which had two officers inside, Oates said.
The occupants of the Kia then "enganged in gunfire" with two additional unmarked Aurora police cars, according to Oates.
A fourth unmarked Aurora police vehicle attempted to block the Kia from leaving the King Soopers parking lot, and there was "contact" between the two vehicles, Oates said. The Kia occupants then fired at that vehicle, which had two police officers inside.
In total, five officers fired their service weapons at the Kia, and four police vehicles were hit by gunfire, according to Oates. No officers were hit, the interim chief said, but one officer was taken to the hospital for possible eye and hand injuries. They have since been released.
Large police presence in Aurora Plaza parking lot & surrounding area after officer-involved shooting. Police currently searching for suspect who is believed to be armed. Aurora Police have issued a shelter-in-place for the area which is still active as of this tweet. pic.twitter.com/DX1rI931nw— Dalton Ross (@DaltonDenverCO) December 1, 2022
The Kia took off from the parking lot, later crashing into a vehicle at 10th and Lima. The occupants got out of the vehicle and took off.
Sometime after 10 p.m., authorities found a 16-year-old juvenile, who was not wearing clothing that fit Wednesday night's cold temperatures, in an open field near Aurora Central High School, according to Oates. He was wearing a non-functioning ankle monitor due to past arrests.
"It is a common theme and frustration for us that when it comes to juveniles and ankle monitors, they either aren't wearing them when they should be or they're non-functioning," Oates said.
According to Oates, the juvenile was wanted on multiple failure to appear warrants for motor vehicle theft and possession of a weapon. He is being held on those warrants, and has not been charged in connection to this incident at this time, according to the interim chief.
Aurora police believe there were at least two occupants inside the Kia at the time of the shooting, and that at least two people shot at officers. Two firearms were recovered from the Kia, according to Oates.
Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information regarding at least one suspect who took off after the crash at 10th and Lima. Oates offered a "rather modest" description — a male who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and has an injury to one of his legs, most likely the right leg based on blood evidence left in the Kia. An age or race was not provided.
Aurora PD is asking residents in the area of East 10th Avenue and Lima Street to check any exterior cameras between 9:45 p.m. and 11 p.m. and report anything suspicious to 303-627-3100.
Per department policy, six officers have been placed on administrative leave — the five who fired their weapons and the officer who used their car to block the Kia. The 18th Judicial District's Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) will investigate the police shooting portion of this incident.
"I see no evidence to indicate that any of these officers at this time violated department policy," Oates said. "In fact, (with) everything I know about this event ... our officers acted courageously in the face of a deadly threat."
The DART team consists of 16 members. With six of its members on administrative leave, Oates said this has caused a "pretty significant impact on our capacity to function." The interim chief called the event "traumatic" for the DART team and the department, and said the DART team was given Thursday off.
"They will be operating on a reduced capacity for some time," Oates said.
Denver7's April Schildmeyer contributed to this report.