Florida Officer Shot 6 Times

Story by news4jax.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --

A suspected shoplifting incident at an area mall turned fatal Saturday evening when an off-duty officer was shot in the face, leg and chest.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the wounded officer managed to return fire, killing the suspect.

The incident began at the Belk store in the Regency Square Mall, where Officer Jared Reston and Officer Chris Brown were working security.

At about 7:45 p.m., Belk loss prevention officers noticed two people they thought were shoplifting and alerted the police officers that they were planning to confront the suspects.

The suspects, 19-year-old Christopher Smith and 18-year-old Joel Abner, resisted security and the police officers intervened, according to police.

Security was able to detain Smith, but Abner took off across the mall parking lot and across the Arlington Expressway, leading Reston on a foot pursuit to the 9400 block of Atlantic Boulevard.

Police said at that point, Abner had refused the officer's commands to stop, but pulled a gun and started shooting at the officer. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Joel Abner from a juvenile arrest

"The witness describes the suspect as literally jumping around the officers, standing over him, shooting him while he's laying on the ground. The officer is described by the witness as trying to dodge the shooting that the suspect is doing, and he gets shots back in an effort to defend himself," Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said in a news conference on the day after the shooting. "He then has the presence of mind to get up, and they become engaged in a physical confrontation, during which there's shooting going on."

Mackesy said a total of 26 shots were fired, 12 by Abner, who hit the officer six times, and 14 by Reston, who hit the suspect seven times.

"We know that multiple shots hit him in the chest. Fortunately, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest," Mackesy said. "The officer did have an opportunity, after being fired upon, to return fire, and the suspect is dead."

According to the undersheriff, Abner was using a semi-automatic .45 glock that was found at the scene to have been fired until empty.

"It was a pretty violent scene. We're fortunate the officer isn't dead," Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said. "It was a fight for life and they were in close-quarter combat." Christopher Smith made his first appearance before a judge Sunday on charges of petit theft and opposing a retail merchant.

He said a stolen shirt was found stuffed into Smith's pants and that Abner was wearing a pair of stolen jeans underneath his own pants.

"What turned out to be a simple shoplifting encounter ended up with an officer in a fight for his life," Mackesy said.

Reston is a 5-year veteran with the force.

Police officers showed up at Shands-Jacksonville Medical Center Saturday night to support Reston, who was shot in the face and leg in addition to the multiple gunshots that hit his bulletproof vest. He suffered a broken jaw, which required immediate surgery.

Reston was in critical condition Sunday afternoon.

"Our hope and our prayer is that he's going to have a complete recovery," Mackesy said.

Atlantic Boulevard between Arlington Expressway and Southside Boulevard was closed by the police investigation just after the shooting and was closed for several hours.