A massive manhunt ensued through a quiet stretch of Millis on Wednesday after a gunman shot at a police vehicle, causing it to crash and catch fire, and leading officials to shut down schools on Thursday, authorities said.
State Police, as well as SWAT teams and local departments, responded by sending patrols and helicopters to the scene, officials said, as they launched the search for a suspect. The officer from the SUV that was shot at was taken to Norwood Hospital for evaluation and released Wednesday evening.
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said authorities were seeking a dark-colored — possibly maroon — pickup truck in connection with the incident. The truck fled east toward Medfield. Police are seeking a white man between the ages of 25 and 40, who remained at large late Wednesday night.
In a statement, Millis Police Sergeant William Dwyer said the incident occurred as the police SUV was traveling northwest on Forest Road at about 2:30 p.m. The pickup truck was heading southeast.
“As the two cars met, the operator of the pickup without provocation opened fire on the Millis cruiser,” Dwyer said. “The officer spun around and, in an attempt to avoid gunfire and seek cover, left the road, striking a tree. The police cruiser was immediately engulfed in fire.”
Dwyer said the officer got out and returned fire at the truck as it fled.
“He obviously was shaken up by the incident,” Dwyer said. “He’s doing well now. He’s obviously assisting us in the investigation at this point, but physically he was not injured.”
Though it remained unclear what prompted the pickup driver to shoot at the SUV, Dwyer said that police even in communities as small as Millis have become vigilant in the current climate about the possibility of being shot at.
“We certainly [all have] heightened awareness — all police officers — and certainly it shows you that any community can have this type of problem, so we are aware of it and prepare for it on a daily basis.”
With the shooter at large, a large law enforcement presence descended on the area. Armed officers stood guard, and a heavy-duty police truck rolled down one of the neighborhood streets.
The neighborhood was cleared and a “shelter in place” advisory was lifted Wednesday night, authorities said.
Earlier, onlookers stood by and watched, trying to gather more details about what might have happened.
Neighbor Ken Whelan said he was in his backyard when he heard a sound he likened to “metal crashing into a tree.”
Whelan went to two nearby intersections and found roads blocked off.
“They told me, ‘Move along, it’s something you don’t want to see,’ ” he said. “The police were already there, so I turned around and left.’’
Whelan said his children were with his wife on the other side of town, after having been locked down at school.
The lockdown was put in place after Millis Middle School received “a disturbing call” at about 10:30 a.m., according to police. The caller indicated a crime may occur in the town on Wednesday, and about one hour later, the school received a telephoned bomb threat, police said.
Millis police and firefighters responded, but no device was discovered.
Although police said there was no evidence that day’s events were connected, schools will be closed for cautionary purposes on Thursday, police said.
“It is very unfortunate that this occurred, but there was no disruption to the students’ first day back,” Superintendent Nancy L. Gustafson said in a posting.
Neighbor Marlaine Dunne said she got a telephone notification from police about the shots fired on the SUV. The call advised her to “stay at home, lock your doors, and don’t let anyone in.”
“This is crazy for this little town,” said Dunne, who has lived in the community since 1979. “Nothing like that ever happens in Millis.”