About 20 minutes later, another officer shot the suspect multiple times, killing him inside police headquarters here, sources say. And on Friday, officials in Mississippi's capital and largest city were reeling over the killing of one of their own inside a high-security building.
"This is indeed a sad day for our city," said Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. He identified the slain officer as Detective Eric Smith, who had spent the past several years investigating homicides and was married to a sergeant in the department.
"Detective Smith was an excellent officer, from all reports," Johnson said. "He'd just been recognized as one of Jackson's best. And obviously, the men and women of the police department are taking this very hard. They protect and serve every day."
A Jackson police officer last was killed on duty in 2010, when Patrolman Glen Agee was shot and killed by a prisoner arrested for aggravated assault and domestic violence who was being transported to the county's jail. That suspect also had shot the officer with his own gun after a struggle, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Across the country a spate of law-enforcement officers have been shot in recent weeks under various circumstances: Mingo County, W.Va.'s sheriff was killed Wednesday in his car. An Indianapolis police officer was wounded Tuesday during a traffic stop. Two Detroit police officers were wounded, one critically, in a Tuesday shootout. The Kaufman County, Texas, prosecutor and his wife were slain in their home this past weekend after one of his assistants was shot nearly two months previously. And Colorado's corrections chief was killed last month in his home.
In Thursday's shooting shortly before 6 p.m. CT, Smith had been questioning Jeremy Powell, 23, arrested in connection with the slaying of Christopher Alexander, 20, whose body had been found Monday just west of Interstate 55 and the Pearl River. Alexander had been stabbed in the neck.
"Obviously, they don't expect this kind of occurrence to happen, but they live with this possibility each and every day," Johnson said.
Smith was about 40 years old, started with the Jackson Police Department in 1995 and lived in the Jackson suburb of Clinton, Miss. He and his wife, Eneke "Nicki" Williams Smith, have two teenage sons.
"He was probably one of the better detectives JPD had," said Lee Partee, who used to work with Eric Smith and now is director of security at Canton, Miss., Public Schools. "You can't ever let your guard down in this type of work."
He said he's worked in law enforcement since 1973 and keeps wondering how the incident happened.
"I don't know what went wrong," Partee said twice.
As this city of about 175,000 mourns the slain detective, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation begins its probe into the incident, standard procedure in such cases.
"He was a very thorough and knowledgeable detective," Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said. He was "lead detective on most of our cases" and was scheduled to be in court Friday in another case.
A Jackson city councilman said he understood that more than one officer had been in the third-floor interview room.
"Sometimes everything goes against you and bad things happen," Interim Clinton Police Chief Mike Warren said. "We don't know what happened in this case, but we will later, I'm sure."
It's extremely rare for a shooting to occur inside a police station, said Tony Carleton, chief of the Tupelo, Miss., Police Department and longtime law-enforcement officer.
"If something like that was to happen here, I'd bring chaplains in to make sure we're able to talk to the families about it. We also would bring in the state Highway Patrol to work the case," he said. "Any time you have a shooting like that, you want a third party to work the case. You don't want to do that with your own officer. You get too emotionally involved."
Bishop Bill Watson, pastor of Rise Again Christian Center Church here stood with a candle in the misting rain Thursday night near the police station.
"(I'm here) just to let people involved know that we care, and we're listening, and we're standing with them to lend support," Watson said, saying he wants Smith's family to know that God would see them through the tragedy. "As paramount as it is, the sun will certainly rise again."
Contributing: Ruth Ingram and Emily Le Coz, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger; and The Associated Press