An undercover Fort Worth officer has died after being shot in the head early Friday during a gun battle with three men suspected in 17 robberies in the area, police confirmed in a late-night news conference.
Officer Garrett Hull died at John Peter Smith Hospital Friday, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said shortly after midnight.
One of three robbery suspects, Dacion Steptoe, was killed in the shootout with police near the Los Vaqueros Sports Bar. Fitzgerald said Steptoe was the one who shot Hull.
Two other suspects in custody — Samuel Mayfield and Timothy Huff — face 10 counts of robbery and two counts of attempted capital murder, police said.
Surveillance video shows three men bursting onto a patio area of the Los Vaqueros Sports Bar. Police said 10 customers were there.
"They bum-rushed the bar, told us to hit the floor. They had the guns out," said owner Victor Zepeda. "And as soon as they took off I heard gunfire. A lot of it."
Investigators suspect the men had been targeting Latino bars in and around Fort Worth under the belief that Latino victims would be less likely to report a robbery to authorities. Fitzgerald said they are believed to be responsible for a string of recent hold-ups in connection with the suspected robberies.
Fitzgerald said a group of undercover and uniform officers had identified the men as suspects and were watching them Thursday night as they entered Los Vaqueros. He added that the officers were wary of endangering bystanders and waited for the three suspects outside the bar before they confronted them.
Zepeda complained Friday afternoon that his business had been used as bait for the suspects. Zepeda was also upset that city inspectors posted a closure notice on the bar Friday. The business evidently lacked proper operating permits.
Officers tried to arrest the suspects around the corner on May Street, where the gun battle erupted.
Neighbor Isela Castro heard the commotion and peeked from her bedroom window to watch what was happening in front of her house.
"It was probably like a minute and a half of just shooting, which was pretty frightening because it sounded so loud. I had never been that close to anything like that," Castro said.
"There was mayhem on the scene," Fitzgerald said. "I can’t reinforce enough how during all of that mayhem you have officers who are thinking about not only taking care of Garrett but moving on to be sure they affect the arrest of these individuals who are perpetrating this crime."
Fellow officers rushed Hull to the hospital in a squad car instead of waiting for an ambulance. Mayor Betsy Price said Friday Hull was "in the fight of his life."
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"We've lost a true hero," Fitzgerald said. "Someone that dedicated more than one tour of service to this great city was senselessly killed by three known criminals, two of which are in custody now."
Hull, survived by his wife and two daughters, was well-liked in the department and was a "rock" of the police intelligence unit, tasked with gathering information on suspects and contends with violent offenders, Fitzgerald said.
"The sacrifices our officers make go unnoticed, unfortunately, until we have a tragedy such as this," Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. "The shock and the grief with terrible tragedies wake people up to the fact that many of our men and women serving don't go home."
Hull, 40, served 17 years with the department.
“The dedication that it takes to be in the unit that he’s in, to go after the very worst of the worst, you have to be a special kind of person to do that," said Fitzgerald. "I feel like I stand up here far too often and speak about officers being assaulted and officers doing their job and trying to create a safe sense of community and cooperation and collaboration in the city of Fort Worth and being victims of violent acts."
While Officer Hull's family and friends were by his side, community leaders held a prayer vigil Friday afternoon at New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church to show their support, too.
"The power of prayer can do wonders," said Pastor Kyev Tatum, a community activist who often speaks out against police actions.
"In crises like this and tragedies like this, this is not the time to stay divided," Tatum said. "We’re going to use this as a moment to bridge the gaps between the police and the communities that they serve and come together."
NBC 5's Eline de Bruijn, Ken Kalthoff, Alice Barr, Scott Gordon and Brian Roth contributed to this story.