AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman who police say tried to run down three officers with her car Wednesday evening was shot and killed when she came at an officer with a knife.
The shots were fired by Officer Benjamin Rogers only seconds after police dispatch broadcast that a woman was trying to commit “suicide by cop,” Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said.
Austin police say the woman who died was 30-year-old Morgan Rankins. Pastor Joseph Parker of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in east Austin says Rankins and her family all attended the church. The pastor says she grew up there and continued attending the church into her adulthood.
“She was here two weeks ago in Sunday School, participating actively,” Pastor Parker told KXAN. The pastor is speaking for the family as they cope with the loss of their loved one, shedding light on the life of the suspect.
“Morgan had a lot of resilience. She had cancer as a child and obviously overcame that and lived with that, and then at some point, I’m not sure when the mental illness manifested itself, but, had to deal with that,” Pastor Parker said. “For someone who reached the age of 30, having come through those things say a lot about her. Some of her ways of coping had to do with her faith.”
The pastor says Rankins lived with her mental illness and managed it through medication. “You would not even know that she had a mental illness,” he said, adding there was no indication she had stopped taking her medicine either.
Pastor Parker said Rankins had no history of violence. “It was not only a shock of her death, but a shock of the incident. The way she died is not the way she lived.”
Family members say there were no warning signs leading up to the altercation with police Wednesday. “That day the family tells me there was nothing. It was a great day and things went well. She was there at the house and left, and that was the last time that they saw her alive.”
The first 911 call concerning the incident was received at 5:58 p.m. Wednesday. Nothing was said and then the caller hung up. Two minutes later, another 911 call was made from the house in the 7900 block of Appomattox Drive. A dispatcher heard the caller say someone was “trying to blow up the house.”
Police arrived at the house eight minutes later, and walked toward where the call originated. A white Dodge Charger backed out of the driveway, tires squealing, as the driver aimed the car at the officers and sped forward.
Officers jumped onto the lawn to avoid being hit, Chief Manley said. Police began their pursuit of the suspect, who then crashed into a car at Manchaca Road and William Cannon Drive, before continuing on.
At this time, the police “terminated” their pursuit based on what had taken place. An officer in the neighborhood was setting up a spike strip when Rankins’ vehicle approached southbound on Manchaca, near Keilbar Lane, and tried to run the officer over.
The suspect car then advanced another 100 yards before losing control, hitting the curb and crashing into a telephone pole, coming to rest in a front yard. An officer closed in on the vehicle while shouting commands to the woman to get out of the car. When Rankins stepped out of the car, she had her back to the officer. According to police, she looked to the left, turned around and raised her right hand above her shoulder, before charging at the officer with a knife.
The officer yelled, “Drop it” repeatedly before opening fire, Manley says. The officer broadcast “shots fired” on the radio and then began to render medical aid. Rankins died at the scene. Police say they did locate a knife in close proximity of Rankins’ body.
“We were fixing to eat supper and then my daughter — we heard this big noise like a ‘boom!'” a neighbor told KXAN. “Then after a few seconds we heard another shot and another one.”
Officer Rogers, who has been with the department for four years, has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard for officer-involved shootings.
Multiple investigations into the shooting are ongoing. Chief Manley expects the on-scene investigation to continue late into the night. No officers were injured in the incident.
The last time the Austin Police Department had a deadly officer-involved shooting was in mid-January when Officer Jesse Lane shot and killed 47-year-old Scott Gilpin. Police say Gilpin was armed with a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle and was firing it in the parking lot of a strip mall on Anderson Mill Road at Olson Drive. Officers spent 13 minutes trying to get the man to put down his gun before he was shot and killed.