A bloody end to a tragic day: Suspect in Auburn police shooting dead
AUBURN — An Auburn police officer was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop early Sunday, setting off a massive daylong manhunt that ended in an explosion of gunfire when the suspect burst from a bedroom closet, opened fire, and was fatally shot by police.
Jorge Zambrano, 35, of Worcester, was killed by police about 18 hours after he fatally shot Ronald Tarentino, a 42-year-old police officer and father of three, authorities said.
Zambrano had holed up in a duplex in nearby Oxford. In an exchange of gunfire with police, he shot an 18-year veteran of the State Police force in the shoulder. The wounded trooper, whose injuries were non-life-threatening, was transferred to UMass Memorial Medical Center.
Zambrano, who authorities said had an extensive criminal history and had spent time in state prison, was taken to the same hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“The threat he posed to our community is now over,” said Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis. Sluckis detailed the manhunt and shootings at a Sunday evening press conference with Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. and Massachusetts State Police Colonel Richard McKeon.
“We now continue the process of speaking for Officer Tarentino by continuing to investigate all the facts and circumstances of his homicide,” Sluckis said. “We owe his family a thorough accounting of everything that occurred.”
Tarentino, a two-year veteran of the Auburn Police Department who had transferred from the Leicester department, was shot around 12:30 a.m. Sunday on Rochdale Street, when Zambrano allegedly fired at the officer, then fled the scene, according to authorities. The officer was taken to UMass Memorial Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. His body was brought to the medical examiner’s office in Boston around 9:30 Sunday morning and returned to a Leicester funeral home in the afternoon.
It remained unclear why Zambrano opened fire on Tarentino, or why he fled to the Oxford duplex. Early said those questions are under investigation.
Court records in Worcester show a man matching the same name, age, and hometown as Zambrano had been arrested as recently as last week for a host of driving violations. In April, a Jorge Zambrano was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and driving with a suspended license.
Both cases were continued without a guilty finding, but Zambrano was scheduled to appear in court on the driving charges on June 9.
After the police officer was shot and killed, several State Police divers spent Sunday afternoon searching for the murder weapon in Stoneville Pond on Rochdale Street but found nothing, according to a trooper at the scene.
Police discovered Zambrano hiding in a duplex in Oxford less than five miles away from the shooting. They used tear gas and police dogs to clear the duplex and begin searching for the suspect. He apparently tried to elude police by moving from one of the units to the other through a crawl space, authorities said.
Investigators found a car used by Zambrano at the Oxford duplex, McKeon said. Early said local law enforcement collaborated with federal agencies including the FBI and Secret Service to track Zambrano to the Oxford home.
“I’m extremely proud of the work done by every trooper and officer involved in today’s investigation and tactical operation,” said McKeon, the head of the State Police. “My pride is outweighed only by my sorrow for the Tarentino family and the Auburn police, and my concern over our injured trooper.”
The trooper wounded in the exchange of gunfire was not identified by authorities Sunday night. He was scheduled to undergo surgery Sunday night at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
Dave Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police department, said the trooper is a former US Navy Seal and was assigned to the department’s Special Tactical Operations Team.
He was in stable condition while being prepped for surgery, Procopio said.
In Leicester and Auburn, meanwhile, the death of Tarentino shocked friends, neighbors and colleagues.
At Auburn Police headquarters at around 4:30 Sunday morning, police and department staff were crying and embracing in the dispatch area.
Ken Holstrom, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, arrived in the lobby of the police station about an hour later. His eyes were red and tears were visible.
A Leicester police officer, speaking on behalf of Tarentino’s family, declined to comment Sunday afternoon.
The last Auburn officer to die in the line of duty was Officer Stephen A. Lukas, who died Jan. 1, 1986 at age 25. He was killed in a traffic accident.
Near Tarentino’s Leicester home, neighbors remembered him as a “good guy,” who walked his children to the bus stop and removed snow from others’ driveways.
Throughout the state, police and fire departments shared messages of condolence on Face-book and Twitter. The posts stretched from Billerica to Cambridge to Seekonk, and included campus police departments and law enforcement officers across the country.
Friends said Tarentino liked dancing to 1980s rock ‘n’ roll, helping others, and being involved in the community. His oldest son is serving in the military, according to Stephen Derrick, Tarentino’s pastor at the Greenville Baptist Church.
Sluckis said at the press conference that Tarentino lived by four ideals: integrity, hard work, courage, and dedication to duty.
“We will honor Ronald by living up to the ideals that he himself lived,” Sluckis said.
More than a dozen law enforcement officials stood outside the Auburn Police Department Sunday morning and saluted a procession of police vehicles. The dozens of vehicles, each with lights flashing and sirens blaring, hailed from various police departments including Auburn, Worcester, Millbury, and the State Police.
Outside the Auburn police station, an American flag had been lowered to half-staff. Bouquets of flowers and a smaller flag were heaped in front of a stone monument commemorating law enforcement officers who had given their lives in the course of duty.
“The Auburn police, the town of Auburn, and the law enforcement community has suffered a tragic loss this morning,” Sluckis said. “We are devastated for his family.”
Sunday evening, more than 300 people gathered before a gazebo on the common in front of the Leicester Town Hall, holding candles in the darkness as a musician strummed softly on an acoustic guitar.
James Allen, an 18-year-old school friend of Tarentino’s middle son, Spencer, asked the crowd to celebrate Tarentino’s life.
“Hands down, one of the best guys in our town,” Allen emphatically said after the vigil.
He described his friend’s father as having a great “goofy” sense of humor, the kind of dad who would “play PS4 and talk smack on the mike, joking around.”
Spencer spoke to the crowd via FaceTime, saying “We all love you guys” as one of his friends at the vigil panned the gathering with a smartphone to show the outpouring of support to his mourning family.
“This is the image that society needs to see today,” said the Rev. Jonathan Slavinskas with St. Joseph’s in Charlton. “We show all of the world that darkness loses, and the light and love that is our faith — that is our community — wins.”