By Carrie Wells, Luke Lavoie and Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun Media Group
12:40 PM EDT, October 24, 2013
A man suspected in the shooting of a Howard County Police officer was captured Thursday morning after a half-mile-wide manhunt by law enforcement turned up nothing the night prior, leaving local businesses, schools and homes on lockdown.
Stephon Prather, 29, of no fixed address, allegedly opened fire on police without warning on the busy U.S. 1 corridor in Savage on Wednesday afternoon, after officers responded to the area for a report of a man with a gun, police said.
The handgun used on the officer was found by police on Thursday inside a storm drain where investigators believe Prather hid overnight.
Howard County officer Steven Houk, 30, a two-year veteran of the department, was seriously wounded in the incident, and police from multiple area agencies began searching for Prather.
At least one other officer had opened fire on Prather as he ran into nearby woods.
They resumed that search at daybreak Thursday, with officers, SWAT team members and even police academy recruits participating and other officers stationed at local schools as a precaution.
Then, shortly before 9 a.m., Prather was spotted walking along Route 1 in the same general area as the shooting with an apparent gunshot wound to his leg — believed to be sustained during the initial altercation with police.
He was arrested without incident and transported to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, police said.
The initial shooting of Houk shut down U.S. 1 for rush hour Wednesday, and it was again shut in both directions on Thursday morning as officers in fatigues searched wooded and grassy areas off the roadway for a weapon.
Prather was found unarmed, said police, who had offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Houk remains in serious condition Thursday, but Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said "it looks like he's going to have a good outcome." McMahon also thanked various agencies from surrounding jurisdictions that assisted in the search as well as the public for enduring the "pretty intense presence" of law enforcement in the area.
Freddy Pina, 23, of Ellicott City, who works at Omega Auto Werks in the 9400 block of Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1), said he was walking out of work Wednesday night when he heard the gunshots, which stopped him in his tracks before he called 911.
On Thursday morning, Pina said he was taking a car out for a test drive when he spotted a man on the side of Route 1.
"I saw the guy standing and he had two sticks and his face covered with a red shirt or something," he said, adding that it looked like Prather was using the sticks to help him walk.
After spotting the suspect, Pina then turned around and drove back into the parking lot. "It's him, it's him," he said he told an officer there. Police captured Prather shortly thereafter.
McMahon, the police chief, said it's "possible [Prather] hunkered down" overnight. The area where he was captured was close to where authorities were looking for him Wednesday. "The investigation is really just beginning," McMahon said. "He shot a cop. We take that obviously very seriously."
McMahon added that police "have a tremendous amount of work to find out why he did what he did … and a tremendous amount of work to make sure he is held accountable."
About 9:40 a.m., U.S. 1 remained shut in both directions as officers in fatigues and holding long guns were searching through a field next to Route 1 beneath overhead power lines.
Police said that because no weapon was found on Prather at the time of his arrest, officers wereconducting a "grid search" in the woods near to where he was found.
Kerry Moore, who lives in a subdivision separated by woods from the commercial area on U.S. 1, said he was home in the afternoon to let in a contractor when he heard helicopters overheard. Moore, 59, said he turned on the TV news and heard that an officer had been shot nearby.
"It's kind of scary up here against the woods," he said. "If he was going to run, he was going to run toward our house."
Moore said that he hoped the officer would recover quickly and that he appreciated an automated phone call from Howard County with information about the suspect. His doors were locked and his house lights were on Wednesday night, he said.
"It kind of gives you an uncertain feeling," Moore said. "Hopefully they'll catch him soon."
The last Howard County officer killed in the line of duty was struck by a car in 2007, and another Howard County officer was injured in a friendly-fire shooting incident in 2000.
A Baltimore County officer, Jason Schneider, was fatally shot in August while serving a warrant in Catonsville.
Tryphenia Ellis-Johnson, co-owner of Liberty Tax at 8851 Gorman Road, said she left work early and was not around when the shooting took place, but that it worried her.
"It makes me more aware that I need to be more careful," she said Wednesday night. "It could be near my office, almost anywhere."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Sara Toth and editor Melanie Dzwonchyk contributed to this article.
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