Man who shot Howard County officer still on the loose

By Carrie Wells and Luke Lavoie, Baltimore Sun Media Group8:08 a.m. EDT, October 24, 2013

Without warning, a man opened fire on Howard County police on a busy thoroughfare Wednesday afternoon, disappearing into a wooded area after seriously wounding an officer.

The gunman was still at large Thursday morning despite a half-mile-wide manhunt the night prior involving dozens of Howard, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery county officers. A major portion of U.S. 1 was shut down for rush hour, and businesses, schools and homes were on lockdown through the evening.

Police announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect, whom they identified as Stephon Prather, 29, of no fixed address.

The search for Prather was relaunched at daybreak Thursday, with officers, SWAT team members and even police academy recruits participating, Howard police said.

Police officers were also stationed at schools in the Laurel area “in an abundance of caution,” police said.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said its tactical response team — which it described as “specialists in woodland searches” — is involved in the search.

Near the scene of the shooting on Wednesday, SWAT teams — many in tactical gear holding rifles — and police K-9s flooded the streets. Helicopters flew overhead and sirens were heard constantly. Several schools were on temporary lockdown and had after-school activities canceled as police searched the area.

The Howard County officer wounded in the shooting was identified as Steven Houk, 30, a two-year veteran of the department. Houk, a patrol officer assigned to the Southern District, was listed in serious condition after being flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, but Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said he was conscious and alert.

With the shooter still on the loose, some nearby residents said they were hunkered down in their homes.

Kerry Moore, who lives in a subdivision separated by woods from the commercial area on U.S. 1, said he was home in the afternoon to let in a contractor when he heard helicopters overheard. Moore, 59, said he turned on the TV news and heard that an officer had been shot nearby.

“It’s kind of scary up here against the woods,” he said. “If he was going to run, he was going to run toward our house.”

Moore said that he hoped the officer would recover quickly and that he appreciated an automated phone call from Howard County with information about the suspect. His doors were locked and his house lights were on Wednesday night, he said.

“It kind of gives you an uncertain feeling,” Moore said. “Hopefully they’ll catch him soon.”

Prather is described as a black man, 6-foot-2 and about 280 pounds, wearing a black jacket and gray pants. Local residents were told to keep their doors locked and to call 911 if they spot the suspect.

Llewellyn said someone at a local business called 911 at about 4 p.m. to report a man armed with a handgun in the 9500 block of U.S. 1, called Washington Boulevard in that area of North Laurel. Three Howard County police officers went to the area, and the suspect “immediately” opened fire on them, striking Houk.

At least one of the other officers shot at the suspect as he ran away into nearby woods, but police did not know whether the suspect was struck.

Llewellyn said it was fortunate that Houk was not more seriously injured in the shooting. “We have received information he is alert and talking, and we think that’s very promising,” Llewellyn said Wednesday night.

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon was at Shock Trauma with the injured officer and his family, officials said.

U.S. 1 was closed in both directions between Whiskey Bottom Road and Gorman Road as authorities searched for the shooter. The area contains strip malls and office and industrial buildings.

Llewellyn said Gorman Road, which intersects with U.S. 1, would be closed for the immediate future and was a crime scene.

Llewellyn said that as far as police knew, the suspect was still in the area and that no one had seen him get into a car or had seen him elsewhere. She declined to release more details about what witnesses reported and said she did not yet know more about the exchange of gunfire.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to locate the suspect,” Llewellyn said. “We are receiving phone calls and following up on every lead.”

The last Howard County officer killed in the line of duty was struck by a car in 2007, and another Howard County officer was injured in a friendly-fire shooting incident in 2000.

Baltimore County officer, Jason Schneider, was fatally shot in August while serving a warrant in Catonsville.

Tryphenia Ellis-Johnson, co-owner of Liberty Tax at 8851 Gorman Road, said she left work early and was not around when the shooting took place, but that it worried her.

“It makes me more aware that I need to be more careful,” she said Wednesday night. “It could be near my office, almost anywhere.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Sara Toth and editor Melanie Dzwonchyk contributed to this article.



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