A pair of teenagers have been charged with murder in juvenile court in connection with the shooting death of a retired St. Louis police sergeant.
Sgt. Ralph E. Harper, 67, was killed Monday in a botched robbery attempt that ended in a hail of gunfire.
A 16-year-old believed to be the gunman was charged with second-degree murder and attempted first-degree robbery, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The second suspect, a 15-year-old identified by his mother as Justin Mathews, reportedly faces the same charges, plus tampering with a motor vehicle and resisting arrest. He is thought to be the driver of the gunman’s getaway car.
Harper, who retired in 2007 after 33 years on the force, was approached by an armed robber as he parked his car early Monday near Tower Grove Park.
Harper pulled out a gun of his own, and both he and the suspect were hit in the ensuing spray of bullets, though it’s unclear who fired first.
The retired sergeant was pronounced dead at a local hospital two hours later after calling 911 himself.
The gunman, meanwhile, reportedly fled the scene in a stolen SUV, and was dropped off at a local hospital to treat a gunshot wound to the wrist. He was arrested there Monday.
Mathews was busted after police learned of the SUV’s description and tracked it down until it ultimately crashed. He was arrested then along with his brother, Julian Mathews, 17.
Our Police family mourns with the friends and family of Retired Sergeant Ralph Harper, who honorably served this department for 33 years. We appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/OahNs7kpTW
— St. Louis, MO Police (@SLMPD) October 29, 2018
Julian is not believed to have been involved in Harper’s death, but was charged with second-degree motor vehicle tampering and resisting arrest, since he ran from the vehicle when it crashed and was later found in a dumpster, the Post-Dispatch reports.
Officers also reportedly recovered a .40-caliber gun inside the vehicle, the same one used to shoot Harper.
Whether Mathews and the 16-year-old suspected gunman, who has not been publicly identified, stand trial as adults will be decided by a juvenile court judge.
Mathews’ mother Marissa Woods said she wanted people to know the teens came from a “good house.”
“They shouldn’t have been out doing that to anyone from the get-go, but they didn’t know that was a police officer,” she told the Post-Dispatch. “I just want people to know that they came from a good house. They just got with the wrong crew. Bad things can happen to good people.”
Harper’s funeral, meanwhile, is scheduled for Friday.
“He was a sweet man, a genuine, caring individual,” retired Sgt. David Bonenberger told the outlet. “Even though he was a sweet, teddy-bear kind of guy, when it hit the fan, you were glad he was there with you. You’d follow him.”