Family of woman killed in 'suicide by cop' incident says mental illness was at play

Dr. Joseph Parker is the pastor of David Chapel Baptist Church in East Austin.   The family of the woman killed in Wednesday night's officer-involved shooting has asked Parker to speak on their behalf.
               
The pastor says he has known 30-year-old Morgan Rankins her whole life.  She overcame Cancer as a child but also dealt with mental illness.

"The illness would surface ever so often but she was a wonderful person.  Sweet-spirited and almost like a daughter to me," Parker said.

In a late-night press conference, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley says they got a 911 call around 6 Wednesday evening from the 7900 block of Appomattox drive.  The caller hung up.  Then they got another call from the same address.

WATCH APD PRESS CONFERENCE HERE

"It was reported that in the background there was a voice talking about someone trying to blow up the house," Manley said.

When 2 APD officers arrived, Manley says a white Dodge Charger peeled out of the driveway.

"You can hear the tires squeal.  The vehicle then turns in the direction of the officers, accelerates at a high rate of speed and drives directly at both officers," Manley said.

The driver led APD on a short chase.  Manley says the suspect crashed into another car at Manchaca and William Cannon before turning around and heading south.
               
At Manchaca and Kielbar, Manley says an officer was setting up spike strips when the driver attempted to run him over.  She lost control and hit a telephone pole.

Manley says the officer walked up to the back of the vehicle and yelled at her to get out and put her hands up.  When she did get out, she raised a knife into the air and charged him.

"At which point he gives multiple commands to drop, drop, drop and ultimately he fires his weapons once she is so close that he felt his life was in danger," Manley said.

The young woman died at the scene.

Read Fatal officer-involved shooting in South Austin

We spoke with a neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous.  He heard the gunfire.

"Three, maybe four shots.  And then you know we just hit the deck and we laid there for a while.  And then a couple of minutes later there's about 15 cops," the man said.

Chief Manley says right before the shooting, APD learned an important detail from a 911 caller.

"They broadcast that this individual is attempting to commit suicide by cop and it is 2 seconds later that our officer broadcast that shots had been fired.  So in the time that it would take for him to pull out his radio and broadcast that shots had been fired, these are likely all happening in the very same moment that broadcast was being put out," Manley said.

Dr. Parker says the family is in deep pain.  They're trying to understand.  But they don't have an opinion yet on whether the shooting was an over-reaction or justified.

"I think that this continues to speak to our need to know how to deal with people who deal with mental illness," Parker said.

The officer who shot Rankins has been placed on administration leave.  It's protocol.  He's been with the department for 4 years.

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