THE gunman who opened fire in Baton Rouge - sending fresh shockwaves across an already anxious country - was deliberately looking to target and kill police officers, officials have revealed.
Authorities in Louisiana said they were still trying to determine the precise motive for the actions of gunman Gavin Long, but said they had concluded he intentionally ambushed the officers, killing three and injuring three others. On Sunday, some initial reports had suggested that officers were caught up in a shoot-out involving people firing at each other.
"We do believe he was targeting officers, and he definitely did ambush these officers that he shot," Lt JB Slaton, a Louisiana State Police spokesman, said on Monday morning.
He told the Associated Press: "We're trying to figure out his motive, we're trying to figure out why he would commit this heinous crime."
Long, 29, was an African American and a former marine who had posted videos online in which he appeared to endorse violence as a way to push back against the seemingly endless incidents in which black and minority suspects lose their lives at the hands of police.
The day after five police officers were fatally shot during a protest against police violence in Dallas, Long posted one such video on YouTube. "I'm not gonna harp on that, you know, with a brother killing the police. You get what I'm saying?" he said. "That's, it's justice."
In another video, referring to Native Americans, he said: "When they were extincted by the same people that run this country, my question to you, just something you can think about: at what point should they have stood up?"
Long had dressed in black and carried extra ammunition before he launched his attack on officers. He was eventually killed by police, but not before he had shot six of them.
Much about the incident remains unclear. Police have said only that officers were contacted about a man "carrying a weapon, carrying a rifle" at about 8.40am on Sunday, and after officers in the area spotted the man, a shootout ensued.
Reuters said that documents showed Long sought to change his name last year to Cosmo Setepenra. A website using that name links to online books about nutrition, self-awareness and empowerment. The man describes himself as a "freedom strategist, mental game coach, nutritionist, author and spiritual adviser". In documents seeking the name change, Long also referred to himself as a member of a black separatist group known as the Washitaw Nation.
The group describes itself as a sovereign Native American nation composed of blacks descended from ancestors who settled in North America before Columbus, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
The attack unfolded less than two weeks after Baton Rouge police fatally shot a black man, Alton Sterling, in a confrontation that reverberated nationwide.
The shooting less than a mile from police headquarters added to tensions across the country between the black community and police. It was the fourth high-profile deadly encounter in the US involving police over the past two weeks.
Long served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010, reaching the rank of sergeant. He deployed to Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009, according to military records. He also attended classes at the University of Alabama for one term in the spring of 2012. A school spokesman said university police had no interactions with him. He was also briefly enrolled at Clark Atlanta University during the 2012-13 academic year, the school said.
The shooting on Sunday morning began at a petrol station where, according to radio traffic, police answered a report of a man with an assault rifle and were met by gunfire. For several long minutes, they did not know where it was coming from.
Of the two officers who survived the shooting, one was hospitalised in critical condition, and the other was in a fair condition. Another officer was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, hospital officials said.
Two of the officers who died were from the Baton Rouge Police Department: 32-year-old Montrell Jackson, who had been on the force for a decade, and 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, who had been there for less than a year. The third fatality was Brad Garafola, 45 was a 24-year veteran of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, the AP said.
Post-mortem tests on the officers were due to be performed yesterday and the the coroner is expected to release preliminary findings later. Long's autopsy is due to be carried out today.