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SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Two San Antonio police officers, including a rookie just one month out of the police academy, were gunned down inside a South Side home Monday while trying to arrest a man on a domestic violence warrant.
The shooter - a recently divorced man who last week tried to fire a gun at his ex-wife, according to police and the man's family - was believed to still be inside the home late Monday, more than five hours after police had cordoned off the home in the 3100 block of Redstart Drive, warned neighbors to remain in their homes and blocked access to much of this neighborhood south of Loop 410 and near Texas 16.
Officer Brandy Roell, 30, who completed her cadet training Aug. 8, was airlifted to University Hospital with a gunshot wound to the back that exited her lower abdomen.
Officer Lawrence Robarts, 30, an eight-year veteran on the force, was shot in the right arm, knee and lower leg and was transported to Wilford Hall Medical Center.
Both officers were coherent, able to speak to their families and undergoing surgery Monday night. Late Monday, their condition had been upgraded to stable - a development that Police Chief William McManus said caused him to breathe "a sigh of relief."
Police said the officers were inside the home and going up the stairs to make the arrest when the man fired at them from somewhere on the second floor.
Robarts tumbled backward but managed to drag himself out the home's back door, where he collapsed in the yard. Roell, however, lay injured near the staircase, all as the shooter continued firing from above.
"It was like a movie scene," said a police source who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to discuss the incident.
Amid the gunfire, police said a patrol officer responding to the scene rushed into the home, grabbed Roell and carried her out to a patrol car. Other officers, meanwhile, returned fire at the gunman, who continued shooting. Two more officers went to the backyard and attended to Robarts, who had to be lifted over two fences to reach an ambulance.
The shooting came just hours after another San Antonio Police officer, Jeremy Swindells, was shot in the leg as he tried to arrest a burglary suspect in an unrelated incident. Speaking to reporters at the scene, McManus underscored the day's gravity.
"This is the third police shooting we've had this day," McManus said, releasing few details about the incident because it is still ongoing. "It's a dangerous job. The officers know that."
The violent assault was a reminder of the last time multiple police officers were shot on the same day in San Antonio, when ex-con Jamie Lichtenwalter shot four policemen at a Denny's restaurant in 2003. Though Monday's attack involved few officers, it happened just as quickly, and like Lichtenwalter, the shooter's rampage appeared to be set off by relationship trouble.
Police declined to identify the man because he has not been charged. But family members, who clustered behind the police tape, hugging each other and holding hands, identified him as Andres Vargas, 43, who runs a general contracting business from his home. Bexar County property records also list the residence as belonging to Vargas.
Vargas' family, his neighbors and police sources said the shooting was a tragic encore to an incident last weekend when the gunman first aimed an AK-47 at his ex-wife and some family members.
"This whole thing is about the divorce," said Alex Vargas, his brother. "He wanted his wife back."
Vargas married in 1983, court records show, and the couple had three children. But last year, after telling family members about her unhappiness in the marriage, they said she filed for divorce. It was finalized three weeks ago.
Vargas was devastated, said his brother, who described him as a hard-working man dedicated to his family. Even though he and his wife sometimes quarreled, particularly over how to raise their children, the brother said Vargas loved her.
But Saturday, the family said he arrived at a vacant lot his ex-wife had recently purchased next to her tax business near the corner of Gillette Boulevard and Lytle Avenue. She and her family had been there all day, mowing the lawn and hauling away trash.
Pulling up in his truck, he got out and pointed what his family said was an AK-47 at the group. The assault rifle jammed.
"It was all, 'click, click, click,'" said Jesse Apolinar, the ex-wife's brother.
Vargas fled before police arrived. They later obtained an arrest warrant for him and were at his home Monday, police said, to arrest him in connection with that crime.
Though the house had remained silent for hours, Alex Vargas and other family members sent their brother a taped message, urging him to surrender.
"We told him we want him to come out, we want him to give up," Alex Vargas said. Late Monday, however, Andres Vargas still remained silent.
Express-News Staff Writers Elaine Ayo and Hearst fellow Alejandro Cabrera contributed to this report.