'Place is like a ghost town': Large swath of downtown Dallas cordoned off as crime scene

A large swath of the normally busy downtown core of Dallas was virtually deserted on Friday, save for law enforcement officials who had cordoned off the area to investigate the fatal shootings of five city police officers.

Community comes together following sniper attack that killed 5 police officers

Dozens of officers are stationed at a series of downtown Dallas intersections — blocked off by yellow police tape — that lead into the four or five blocks of streets that have been designated an active crime scene. (Mark Gollom/CBC News)

A large swath of the normally busy downtown core of Dallas was virtually deserted on Friday, save for law enforcement officials who had cordoned off the area to investigate the fatal shootings of five city police officers.

"This place is like a ghost town," remarked one police officer, comparing it to a normal Friday afternoon.

He was one of dozens stationed at a series of intersections — blocked off by yellow police tape — that lead into the four or five blocks of city streets that have been designated an active crime scene.

Inside that zone, along with the investigators who continue to search the area, sat scores of cars. Their owners cannot move them until the scene is cleared, which some officials predicted may not happen until Wednesday.

"Everything is in my car. My life is in my car," said Dee Akeju, whose car sat in a parking lot.

Looming within the sealed-off area is the parking garage near El Centro College, where Micah Johnson, the shooter, unleashed from above his deadly ambush, which also wounded seven police officers and two civilians.

Earlier, just a few blocks away at Thanks-Giving Square in downtown Dallas, a respite for office workers grabbing a lunch break, became an impromptu vigil site where hundreds gathered to show support for the slain officers.

"I come here every day," said Lisa Bishop, who works nearby. "[Dallas] is my home. You have to come here and support your people."

"It's senseless," she said of the shootings. "We need to come together and help heal everybody."

While the crime scene is off limits to everyone but investigators, Thanks-Giving Square was open to the public and became a rallying spot for top city officials and religious leaders.

They spoke of the broken hearts of a grieving city but also issued a plea, a call to action to deal with the racial strife plaguing the nation.

'So much emotion'

"I almost didn't come out of fear because so much emotion was running," said Dallas resident Phallon Wright. "I'm so grateful that I did because it lifted my spirits."
A woman prays during a vigil following the deadly sniper attack in Dallas. (REUTERS)

The shooting in Dallas occurred as people gathered in the streets to protest the fatal police shootings of two black men this week,

 Alton Sterling, 37, out front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La., early Tuesday, and Philando Castile, 32, inside a car in Falcon Heights, Minn., on Wednesday. Both shootings were captured on video and both inflamed racial tensions across the nation.

Police say the Dallas gunman, who was killed by a robot armed with a bomb, had declared he wanted "to kill white people, especially white police officers." Three other suspects were taken into custody.
People wait to return to their cars as police investigate the scene of Thursday's shooting in Dallas. (The Associated Press)

The attack took place only a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, where U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings couldn't help but refer to that event, which for years cast a dark cloud over the city.

"Those of us who loved this city always knew there was so much more to Dallas than what happened on that day in 1963," he said.

But now there is another defining tragedy, the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the city's history, and the deadliest day for law enforcement in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Yet Rawlings said he believed some good would come out of the tragedy, saying citizens would not shy away "from the very real fact that we as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues. They continue to divide us."

"We gotta change," he said. "We must step up our game and approach complicated issues in a different way. And race is complicated."
Hundreds of people listen as community leaders in Dallas try to reassure them following Thursday night's deadly sniper attack on city police. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

He asked whether the people can speak against the actions of relatively few police officers who blemish the reputation of their colleagues and support and defend the 99 per cent of officers who do their jobs professionally.

"I think we can and I think we must," he said

'Evil plan'

Pastor Brian Carter spoke about the community's deep pain, but he also elicited rousing applause when he declared: "We refuse to hate each other."

But the most passionate response was reserved for Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who thanked the many well-wishers.

He referred briefly to the sniper attack, saying it was a well-organized evil plan and that police won't rest until everyone involved is brought to justice. 

But he also vowed the city is determined not to let those responsible "steal democracy from us."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp