FERGUSON, Mo. — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon early Monday ordered the National Guard into Ferguson hours after police said escalating violence led to shootings, arrests and "pre-planned" acts of aggression by protesters.
Nixon made the announcement following another night of clashes between police and protesters in the suburb of St. Louis.
Sunday night and early Monday morning, protesters shot at police, threw Molotov cocktails at officers, looted local businesses and carried out a "coordinated attempt" to block roads and overrun the police's command center. The National Guard will "help restore peace and order and to protect the citizens of Ferguson," the governor's office said.
"Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk," a statement from Nixon's office said. "These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory, and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served, and to feel safe in their own homes."
The shooting death in Ferguson of unarmed 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown has led to a week of protests that have sometimes turned violent.
Late Sunday, more than two hours before a second midnight curfew was set to begin, police fired tear gas at hundreds of angry protesters who were marching down the town's main thoroughfare toward a police command center.
"Based on the conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response," said Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in command in Ferguson. "We had to act to protect lives and property."
At least two people were injured — including one person who was shot, Johnson said. Seven or eight people were arrested and will be charged with failure to disperse, police said.
Johnson also offered specific scenes from the night that illustrated the intensifying violence:
- At 8:25 p.m. local time, a person was shot on West Florissant, the street where protesting has been centered.
- At 8:26 p.m. shots were fired at a nearby location.
- At 8:27 p.m. police learned that a "subject was down."
- At 8:28 p.m. police received a report of eight people with guns and tactical teams responded.
- By 8:56 p.m. hundreds of protests marched toward the shopping center where police have set up their command post. In response, police officers lobbed tear gas at the group and asked other local police departments for assistance.
- At 9:20 p.m. Johnson said McDonald's employees were forced to lock themselves in a storage room after being "overrun" by protesters.
"Police were shot at, makeshift barricades were set up to block police, bottles and rocks were thrown at police," Johnson said.
He added that officials are looking into additional steps to restore calm to the city.
But some protesters said no one threw Molotov cocktails.
Renita Lamkin, 43, the pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Charles, Mo., has been acting as a peacekeeper, urging people to remain calm.
"That is not true," she said when asked about claims that protesters threw Molotov cocktails.
Yah Ammi, 30, agreed saying protesters did nothing to provoke officers. He did however say protesters planned a march to the police's command post. In the middle of marching there, officers threw tear gas at the group.
"They cut us off and they began shooting without warning," Ammi said. "They began shooting into the crowd with women, children, and the peaceful, innocent protesters who were here exercising our constitutional rights."
The situation became particularly intense and confusing when protesters were trapped between officers firing tear gas on one side and the sound of gunshots on the other side. Dozens of people ran onto side streets, ducked behind cars and hid behind buildings.
One protester, Keshonda James, 35, was driving away from police when a canister of tear gas shattered her windshield. The exploding glass hit her left arm, which was later bandaged by a fellow protester.
"Glass exploded everywhere. This isn't cool. I'm not down here looting," James said.
Bryan Jones, 23, was among those running. He said he felt more comfortable running toward the sound of gunshots than fleeing back toward police. He said he has been harassed by police his entire life.
"It's horrible that I feel like I'm better off running away from the tear gas and running toward the people that are busting at the cops," Jones, 23, said.
The unrest also led officials to close all schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District Monday, according to KSDK TV. The school district received information late Sunday evening that contributed to safety concerns for students walking to school or waiting for buses on the impacted streets, the station said.
Meanwhile, a preliminary autopsy found that Brown was shot at least six times, but the circumstances of his death remain unclear.