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Gunman opened fire on first responders at a house fire in Tucson, police say

"This was a horrific and senseless act of violence."

The gunman, Leslie Scarlett, allegedly targeted firefighters, police officers and paramedics who had responded to the house fire. Adriana Zehbrauskas / The New York Times


Flames flashed inside the windows of a Tucson home on Sunday afternoon when 35-year-old Leslie Scarlett allegedly approached two paramedics sitting inside an ambulance a few blocks from the fire.

As the first responders turned their heads to look, Scarlett fired a pistol, striking the 20-year-old man in the driver’s seat in the head and hitting the 21-year-old woman in the passenger’s seat in the arm and chest, police said. Both were later hospitalized.

The shootings set off a rampage targeting paramedics, firefighters and police officers that left at least one person dead and four others injured. The incident ended when a Tucson police officer shot Scarlett on Sunday, sending him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, according to a statement released by the Tucson Police Department on Monday.

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After Scarlett allegedly shot the paramedics inside their ambulance, he drove to the site of the house fire at a one-story home on East Irene Vista near the city’s Silverlake Park. There, Tucson police said he shot at firefighters who had arrived around 3:45 p.m. to beat back the blaze inside the home.

“We’re being shot at,” one of the first responders told dispatchers over the radio, according to a recording shared with The Washington Post.

A fire captain told dispatchers shots were still being fired as he ran to a nearby house with a bleeding wound.

“I’m by myself in a residence,” the injured captain added over the radio after taking shelter. “I’ve got a [gunshot wound] to the right arm. I think it’s just superficial.”

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Another first responder told dispatchers he and two other people jumped into a fire engine and drove away from the gunshots.

“We’ve fled the scene,” he said. “I’m missing both of my firefighters.”

After firefighters ran from the yard, seeking shelter inside neighbors’ homes, Scarlett allegedly drove away in an SUV, police said.

Tucson officer Danny Leon was driving toward the scene of the shooting when the gray SUV careened into the left rear side of his police cruiser, according to body-camera footage shared with The Post. Both vehicles came to a stop, and Scarlett stepped out of the SUV to shoot several bullets toward the police car, police said.

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Leon dipped below the driver’s side window of his cruiser as gunshots rang out, the video showed. Then he fired his service weapon, striking Scarlett and knocking him to the ground in a gravel parking lot outside of an auto body parts shop. Scarlett was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said. He remained hospitalized as of early Tuesday.

Scarlett had a previous conviction for armed robbery in 2007 and was sentenced to six years in prison, 3TV/CBS 5 reported. He was released in 2013.

When homicide detectives arrived to investigate the burned home, police found the body of 44-year-old Cory Saunders, who had seen the fire at his neighbor’s home and rushed over to help the residents evacuate. As he stood outside waiting to flag down firetrucks that were en route to the home, Scarlett allegedly shot him. Another neighbor who had been waiting with Saunders had a graze wound from a bullet, police said.

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Police also found a badly burned body inside the home, Sgt. Richard Gradillas told The Post in an email. Police had not identified the victim as of late Monday, though 3TV/CBS 5 reported that officials suspect the woman was the missing mother of three children who lived in the home. Investigators initially reported the three children who lived in the home were also missing, but police later located them safe at a family member’s house.

Gradillas told The Post that Tucson officials are still investigating the cause of the fire inside the house. It remains unclear whether Scarlett had any connection to the home or its residents.

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“I ask our entire Tucson community to join me in thinking about and praying for the victims of this afternoon’s fire and shooting by Silverlake Park, including first responders from AMR [American Medical Response] and the Tucson Fire Department,” Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said in a tweet Sunday. “This was a horrific and senseless act of violence.”

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