The Fairmont PD is looking into the possibility that one of its officers and a neighbor were shot by a man who lured them by setting a house on fire before taking his own life.
The shooting helped explain why locals saw firefighters at first appearing to stand back from fighting the blaze, and why police told onlookers to take cover.[jump]
Officer Chad Sanow and neighbor Matthew Van Watermulen were walking toward the fire at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday after a 911 call to see if anyone was inside. Shots rang out, striking them both.
Update 1: The Fairmont Sentinel reported that police Lt. Del Ellis grew emotional at a Wednesday press conference, describing how a bullet-proof vest saved Sanow's life.
"Officer Sanow went there to save lives, and this gunman decided he wanted to kill a cop," Ellis said. "This has rocked the law enforcement community. We all know the dangers of the job, but last night we faced a very grim situation, and our hats are off to Officer Sanow for doing such a great job."
By 11 p.m., the suspected gunman had been found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
A man named Michael Mathwig owns the house, but right now it isn't clear if he and the alleged gunman are the same person. And while police look into the ambush theory, they haven't yet offered a motive.
Update 2: Court records show that Mathwig has been in trouble with law enforcement before. His record includes convictions on disorderly conduct and drunken driving. And he pleaded guilty in April to fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct after being accused of exposing himself to a neighbor girl who was younger than 16.
Both the officer and the Good Samaritan were airlifted to area hospitals, and are said to be recovering.
Fairmont is about 65 miles West of Albert Lea on Interstate 90.