By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
NEW ORLEANS — Police on Saturday arrested a man suspected of fatally shooting a police officer and critically wounding two sheriff’s deputies after allegedly setting fire to a mobile home in south Louisiana, where an elderly man’s body was found.
A Chitimacha tribal officer was pronounced dead at the scene of the shootings in Charenton, while two St. Mary Parish sheriff’s deputies were critically wounded and taken to local hospitals, said Louisiana State Police Trooper Stephen Hammons.
Hammons said the officers were responding to a report of an armed man walking down a road near the Cypress Bayou Casino when Wilbert Thibodeaux, 48, of Charenton allegedly shot them.
“Thibodeaux fired at the Chitimacha Officer, fatally wounding him,” state police said in a news release. “As two St. Mary Deputies, who were in the same car, arrived at the scene Thibodeaux fired multiple shots hitting the deputies. During the encounter, Thibodeaux was shot.”
Investigators found the burned remains of a man after extinguishing a fire at a mobile home that Thibodeaux is suspected of setting before the officers confronted him, Hammons said.
Police identified the deceased man in the mobile home as Eddie Lyons, 78, of Charenton. “Detectives suspect Lyons was shot by Thibodeaux before the fire,” state police said in a news release.
Thibodeaux was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound that wasn’t considered life-threatening and released, according to Hammons, who said investigators were questioning him Saturday evening. Charges against him are pending.
The state Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the fire.
“Today is a difficult day for our partners in St. Mary Parish,” Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with the deputies and the officer’s families tonight. I know the coming days and weeks will be difficult ones for the men and women of the Chitimacha Police Department and the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office. We will assist their agencies in any way we can during these trying times.”
The casino is run by the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana and is less than a quarter-mile from the scene of the shootings. Hammons said the shootings occurred near but not on tribal land.
“Everybody is just in shock. It’s small-town America,” said Jacqueline Junca, the tribe’s secretary and treasurer.
Police didn’t immediately release the names of the officers. Authorities said they will do so at a Monday news conference.
Tribe councilman Toby Darden said the slain officer was married and had two grown children, but he declined to give his name.
“He’s a real great guy. Extremely dedicated to his job. Very brave,” Darden said.
He was one of seven full-time officers who patrol a 260-acre reservation that has roughly 150 homes, a grocery store, a small school and government offices.
“Everybody knows the officers personally,” Darden said. “It’s devastating.”
Junca said the tribe has around 1,200 members, roughly half of whom live on the reservation.
Access to and from the casino was restricted for roughly 90 minutes as a precautionary measure while police responded to the shooting, said casino spokeswoman Nancy Herrington. Charenton is located about 45 miles southeast of Lafayette.
“We are very much in business and have been,” Herrington said later Saturday. “We have events tonight. All of those are taking place.”
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office and a tribal police dispatcher referred questions about the shootings to the State Police.
“We’ve got a lot of unanswered questions,” State Police Capt. Doug Cain said.
One of the injured deputies was taken to a hospital in New Orleans and the other was taken to a Lafayette hospital. Both were listed in critical but stable condition Saturday evening, Hammons said.