Gunfire heard as police scatter Missouri shooting protesters
Updated: 2014-08-18 16:38
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In an executive order signed after midnight, Governor Jay Nixon said he was dispatching the US state militia to help restore peace after demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and shot at police as well as a civilian, a description of the protest that differed widely from some eyewitness accounts.
"Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk," he said in a statement on his website.
At around dusk on Sunday, hundreds of protesters including young children fled to safety after police wearing gas masks and body armor fired canisters of smoke to scatter them hours ahead of a planned midnight curfew in suburban Ferguson, Missouri.
Gunfire was heard but it was unclear where it was coming from.
A crowd of about 400 appeared to be marching peacefully, and included numerous families with children, when they were subjected to rounds of smoke canisters.
"The smoke bombs were completely unprovoked," said Anthony Ellis, 45. "It (the protest) was led by kids on bikes. Next you know, they're saying, 'Go home, Go home!'"
The Missouri Highway Patrol said "aggressors" were trying to infiltrate a law enforcement command post and that armored vehicles were deployed to ensure public safety.
"We ordered them back. We ordered them back again. After several attempts, we utilized the smoke to disperse these individuals," said Highway Patrol Corporal Justin Wheetley.
He later said that at least one Molotov cocktail had been thrown at police, although some witnesses said those were tear gas canisters being thrown back at police.
"Molotov cocktails were thrown, there were shootings, looting, vandalism, and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous," State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told a late night news briefing. "I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response."
Schools in Ferguson would be closed on Monday, officials said.
The midnight curfew was imposed for the second night in the tense St. Louis suburb hit by racially charged protests, violence and looting since Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death on Aug. 9 by white police officer Darren Wilson.