A man who made fake 911 calls to lure law enforcement officers into an ambush was found dead after opening fire on deputies Wednesday morning, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
One of the three deputies who responded to the call for help at about 5:30 a.m. was injured in the shooting, Lott said in a news conference.
When deputies found the body of 25-year-old Frederick Westfall, he was in full tactical gear and had an assault rifle with him, according to Lott.
Lott said it appears Westfall killed himself after shooting at the deputies in the Carriage Oaks Subdivision in northeast Columbia.
“I’m fortunate I’m not standing here and talking about a deputy being killed like we had in Spartanburg and in Cayce,” Lott said, referencing recent shootings where law enforcement officers responded to domestic violence calls and were killed by a shooter. “Same type situation in that it was an ambush.”
Joseph Shannonhouse is the deputy who was injured, according to the sheriff.
Shannonhouse was not hit by gunfire. But while he was driving, a bullet blasted through the passenger window and lodged into the dashboard of his patrol vehicle, Lott said. Glass from that impact hit Shannonhouse in the face and got in his eyes, according to the sheriff.
Shannonhouse, who has been with the sheriff’s department for about a year after serving in the military and working as a police officer at Fort Jackson, reacted quickly while under fire and was able to drive away from the crime scene while calling for help, Lott said.
More deputies arrived at the scene, and as they checked the area, they found a person “laying there dead” at the house next to the one where they initially arrived, Lott said.
The person was Westfall, who investigators confirmed made two phony calls to 911, telling the dispatcher a woman was being attacked, according to the sheriff.
Deputies discovered the woman was not being attacked, Lott said.
“The lady says nothing is wrong, she hasn’t called, she’s not being assaulted, she has no clue why they would be called to her house,” Lott said at the news conference.
As the deputies were leaving, the shooting started.
Lott was clear that his deputies did not kill Westfall because they never fired their weapons. The deputies never had a chance to fire because they never saw anybody to shoot at, Lott said.
There was no word on Westfall’s motive for the shooting.
“Why? We don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know,” Lott said. “Probably only the dead person and the Devil knows why he did what he did today.”
Westfall had no record of previous encounters with law enforcement, according to Lott. While there was no obvious motive, Lott said it was plain to see what Westfall wanted to achieve.
“I don’t think you get much more premeditated then that. Being fully armored, making a call, a false call to get deputies out there,” Lott said. “He wasn’t there to give them a cup of coffee, he was there to shoot them and kill them.
“We were just lucky he wasn’t successful.”
Other than Shannonhouse, no other injures were reported.
The sheriff said Shannonhouse was treated at an area hospital where the glass was removed and his eyes are going to be “OK.”
Despite Westfall’s death, Lott said the investigation into the shooting is very active. Investigators are processing scenes, and have to process the patrol vehicle that was hit by gunfire.
And deputies are working to trace all of the bullets that were fired, according to the sheriff.
“We were lucky, we were very lucky,” Lott said. “This was an ambush. Nothing else but an ambush to kill cops.”