Slain Officers Faced Daunting Firepower Despite Connecticut’s Strict Gun Laws

The bullets came in bursts when three Bristol, Conn., police officers arrived at the home on Redstone Hill Road after a 911 call on Wednesday night: one fusillade of about 25 shots, a minute’s respite, another score of shots, a second pause and then a single, final round.

The ambush, whose sounds were recorded on surveillance video, left two of the officers dead and the third wounded. And it left residents re-examining how such an attack could happen in a state that has some of the nation’s most restrictive gun laws, regulations tightened after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting some 40 minutes away from Bristol.

The man who authorities said pulled the trigger, Nicholas Brutcher, hardly hid his affinity for guns. An avid hunter, he gleefully depicted his firearms on his Facebook page, which included a photo from his wedding of his buddies in matching formal attire and brandishing long guns in comic aggression. Mr. Brutcher stands in the center, pointing a pistol directly at the camera.

Wednesday’s bursts of rapid gunfire suggested an automatic weapon. But it remained unclear exactly what type of gun Mr. Brutcher used when, according to State Police officials, he fired on the three officers outside his home. The garage door of the house was peppered with about 20 bullet holes.

Gov. Ned Lamont expressed dismay on Friday that the shooting could have happened despite the state’s gun laws.

“I’m very strict when it comes to illegal guns and getting illegal guns off the street,” said Governor Lamont, a Democrat, who added that he was alarmed by “the idea that some of our cops are outgunned by the bad guys.”

Sgt. Brianna Maurice with the State Police’s special licensing and firearms unit said she did not know what type of gun was used, and that state law prevented her from divulging whether Mr. Brutcher held any permits.

The Giffords Law Center, which seeks to stem gun violence, ranks Connecticut third nationally, with an A-minus grade, behind New Jersey and California, for the strength of its gun safety laws.

Most guns used in crimes in places with strong laws come from out of state, said David Pucino, the law center’s deputy chief counsel. Indeed, laxer laws in places like Pennsylvania and Southern states, including Georgia and the Carolinas, make it difficult to keep illegal guns out of the hands of those who want to possess them.

“You see this time and time again, especially in the tristate region, where you have three states with extraordinarily strong gun laws, but that are connected to states that have extraordinarily weak gun laws, connected by a major highway,” he said.

On Friday, residents struggled for simpler answers in Bristol, best known as the home of the ESPN sports network. Flags across Connecticut were lowered to half-staff, and members of the state’s law-enforcement agencies mourned their slain colleagues in the town of about 60,000, about 80 miles northeast of Midtown Manhattan.

In a posting on Facebook, Mayor Jeffrey Caggiano said Bristol “has been rocked to our core” and that “the entire community is hurting.” He said a relief fund would be established.

Outside a gas station not far from the shooting site, small American flags surrounded a banner emblazoned with the logo of the Bristol Police and bearing this message: “Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You.”

State Police were investigating what might have led Mr. Brutcher to open fire on the three officers. But authorities held no news conference to divulge details, and the State Attorney and Bristol Police Department did not respond on Friday to requests for information on the shooting, which had unfolded along a quiet residential street.

Around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, police were called to investigate a possible domestic dispute between two brothers, the Connecticut State Police said. When the police arrived, Nicholas Brutcher was standing outside the house and fired, officials said.

Connecticut State Police officials said the initial 911 report might have been a ruse, saying that their investigation suggested the call had been placed in a “deliberate act to lure” officers to Mr. Brutcher’s home. They did not say what his motive might have been.

Sgt. Dustin Demonte, 35, and Officer Alex Hamzy, 34, were killed and a third officer, Alec Iurato, 26, was wounded.

Mr. Brutcher died at the scene, either shot by the police officers or by his own gun. His younger brother, Nathan Brutcher, 32, was also wounded by gunfire apparently after quarreling with his brother before the police shooting.

Norberto Rodriguez, 44, who lives in an apartment complex across the street from where the shooting occurred, said he did not know the Brutchers, but said Nicholas was noticeable in the neighborhood.

“He’s a big boy. It’s something you can’t forget when you see a guy like that,” he said, adding that several days before the shooting, Mr. Brutcher seemed anything but violent.

He seemed to be a happy father, contentedly carving pumpkins with his young children in front of his home, a red brick house with gray trim, said Mr. Rodriguez.

But according to court records, not all was well with Mr. Brutcher, who the Hartford Courant reported was divorced. Court records show that he had fallen into debt, owing about $6,600. He failed to appear in court, according to the records, which led to his wages being garnisheed.

Mr. Rodriguez said that while retrieving his mail on Wednesday night, he saw Mr. Brutcher barreling out of his home dressed in camouflage and pacing wildly on the property while waving what looked like an AR-15 automatic rifle.

“I could tell he was drunk, the way he was talking and yelling,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I think the liquor took over.”

When Mr. Brutcher’s brother came out, apparently to restrain his brother, they began to argue and the younger brother pushed the older. There was a gunshot and the younger brother could no longer be seen, Mr. Rodriguez said.

A minute later, three officers pulled up in separate cars. The first was shot before even leaving the car, Mr. Rodriguez said, and the other two seemed to be hit while running to take cover and return fire.

On Friday, about three miles away, at the Bristol Police Department, a steady stream of people carried bouquets of flowers and added them to a display that included a police cruiser, photos of the fallen officers, and a handmade sign with their names and badge numbers. By early evening, a crowd of several hundred had gathered for a candlelight vigil.

“Our hearts go out to them,” Linda Levesque, 75, said earlier in the day. “There was no need of this tragedy.”

“It’s very somber to see this,” said Deborah Cudney as she carefully placed a bouquet of flowers on the cruiser and gazed tearfully at both photos.

“You never think it would come to your community,” she said. “Then this happens.”

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