Baltimore police officers shot and killed two men Thursday afternoon when the officers happened upon the armed pair about to open fire across an east side street, police said.
The two men were not identified, nor were the three officers, who police said were on routine patrol about 4 p.m. and arrived "by happenstance" in the 400 block of E. Lanvale St. in Greenmount West.
One suspect was armed with a high-powered automatic rifle, police said. None of the officers was injured in the shooting, which happened down the block from a playground.
At least two officers, wearing civilian clothes with vests reading "POLICE," fired their weapons, said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman. The officers arrived in an unmarked car, he said.
It's not clear if the suspects had fired their weapons before police arrived, he said, nor if their intended targets had fired.
It's also unclear if the suspects aimed their guns at the officers or if the police gave commands before firing.
What's clear, Smith said, was the officers interrupted violence about to unfold.
"If we have two guys with guns, aiming those guns at somebody else, there's a very distinct possibility that the people who they were aiming their guns at could have had guns," Smith said.
One of the men who was killed had a handgun, while the other had an automatic rifle with a scope and more than 20 rounds of ammunition, Smith said.
"It's a scary weapon that was being aimed at someone in the middle of the afternoon," he said.
As a crowd gathered along the yellow crime tape, several people arrived who said they were related to one of the dead men. A woman, crying, held a cellphone to her cheek. "I need to know if that's my son, please," she said.
Barbara Johnson, who accompanied her, identified herself as an aunt of the dead man. "He was a nice person. He was getting himself back together to go back to school," she said. Asked about the shooting, she said, "I don't know anything about that."
Neighborhood residents said they heard lots of gunfire.
J.C. Faulk, a neighborhood activist who lives around the corner, said he heard perhaps 30 shots fired.
"It was like a battle going on," Faulk said. "That [expletive] went on like a crazy gangster movie, man."
Neighbor Kiera Hayes praised the officers for their quick action.
"They popped up at the right time," Hayes said. She said she was walking past when the shooting began. She hurried inside her uncle's house as neighborhood children scattered outside .
"If it wasn't for the police, the kids could be gone," she said. "Because a bullet don't have no names on it. The police came and did their job and did what they had to do."
Smith said the officers were driving east on Lanvale near a dead end at Green Mount Cemetery when they came upon a vehicle, out of which came two armed men. The officers then "got out and confronted those individuals," Smith said.
The officers were assigned to the special operations section in the Eastern District, Smith said.
He said he did not know how many shots were fired at the scene, which was still being looked over by investigators Thursday evening. No suspects had been taken into custody, Smith said.
No motive was known in the shooting, though Smith noted other violence in the general area recently, including one shooting Wednesday night.
"Was there some sort of beef going on in this community right as the officers were coincidentally coming down the street? That possibility exists, and that possibility is strong, but that's what we need assistance in as we continue to piece together what occurred," Smith said.
Kawanda Glenn, who lives in the neighborhood with her 1-year-old and 3-year-old sons, said she's fed up with the violence.
"I got to get out of here. I got to move," Glenn said. She returned from work at the National Aquarium to a scene of police cars, crime tape and crowds. "We have kids that play up and down this street every day," she said.
The violence, she said, is brought by outsiders. Then she shouted across the block, "If you're not from around here, just go!"
The two men are the second and third people shot by police this year.
Jawan Richards, 22, was shot by officers in the neck on Jan. 27 after officers said they approached his vehicle and he placed it in reverse, tearing the door off the officers' vehicle and injuring one of the officers' legs. Police said marijuana and a gun were found in the vehicle, and charged Richards with various crimes. Richards' family has challenged the police account.
Baltimore police officers shot 11 people in 2015, compared with an average of 12.6 for the previous five years. Officers from other agencies that operate in the city shot two people last year.