Although the most likely suspect was shot and killed by police, the investigation into the events that unfolded on Ligian Court in Johnston on May 24 remain under investigation.
“The investigation regarding the incident is ongoing,” Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira said Wednesday morning. “I have no new information to disclose at this time regarding the open investigation.”
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s investigation into the police shooting that followed later that day, has also yet to conclude.
“No update at the moment,” Brian Hodge, spokesman for Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, said Tuesday evening.
Witnesses at the scene described upwards of 50 rounds fired by police at alleged killer, James Harrison, 52, of 4 Ligian Court, who was on the run since early that morning.
When asked how many shots were fired, and which law enforcement officer fired the fatal shot(s), Hodge replied, “As this is an ongoing investigation, there is no comment at this time.”
On May 25, the day following the shootings, Vieira released some case details, including the possible catalyst event, which had occurred around midnight the night before the murders.
Vieira said that Johnston police responded to 2 Ligian Court “in reference to a report of suspicious activity” around midnight.
“Upon arrival the resident, Thomas May, age 44, reported banging noises were heard on the exterior of his residence by his daughter’s bedroom window,” according to Vieira. “After raising the window blinds, Mr. May observed his neighbor, identified as (Harrison), outside his residence in possession of a ladder.”
May, a neighbor and one of the next morning’s shooting victims, told police that Harrison ran from his home toward “his residence next door.”
“While on scene, officers did not observe any signs of attempted forced entry to the bedroom window nor could they locate a ladder,” according to Vieira. “Mr. May subsequently requested to file a trespass order against Harrison forbidding him from his property.”
Responding Johnston police officers on the scene “attempted to make contact with Harrison at 4 Ligian Court but were met with no response,” according to Vieira. “Attempts to contact Harrison by telephone were also met with no response.”
The next morning, around 7:30 a.m., shots rang out on Ligian Court, as Johnston Police Officer Scott Hopkins returned “in another attempt to make contact with Harrison to investigate and issue him the trespass notice.”
As Hopkins turned onto Ligian Court from Simmonsville Avenue, he saw Harrison driving a dark blue Buick.
“As Harrison approached Simmonsville Avenue, he made a hand gesture towards Officer Hopkins consistent with shooting a firearm,” according to Johnston police. “Officer Hopkins then entered the driveway of 2 Ligian Court with the intention of turning around to detain Harrison.”
That’s when Hopkins spotted “a 15-year-old juvenile female lying on the front lawn of the residence with apparent gunshot wounds and stopped to render aid.”
The first victim discovered was May’s daughter. Simultaneously, police said they received two 911 calls reporting “shots fired.”
After additional officers arrived on the scene, they found May, a Johnston Little League coach, dead in the garage of the residence, “from a fatal gunshot wound to his head,” according to police.
“The juvenile identified Harrison as the shooter,” Vieira said via press release. “Officers were unable to locate Harrison and a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) was issued to surrounding law enforcement agencies regarding Harrison and the vehicle he was operating. The juvenile was immediately transported by Johnston Fire Department rescue personnel to Hasbro Children’s Hospital where she received treatment for her injuries that were serious, however, not life-threatening.”
Police entered Harrison’s home at 4 Ligian Court, “in an attempt to locate additional victims in need of medical aid,” when they found a third victim, whom police identified as the suspect’s mother, Janet Harrison, 83. Police said she “was also deceased from a fatal gunshot wound to the head.”
For the next few hours, law enforcement watched out for signs of Harrison’s Buick Encore.
He was eventually spotted by an off-duty dispatcher hiding out at St. Ann Cemetery. A pursuit ensued through multiple jurisdictions and ultimately ended in a Plainfield Pike crash on the Johnston/Cranston border, underneath the Interstate 295 overpass.
“James Harrison was fatally wounded by police after exiting his vehicle armed with a handgun,” according to Vieira.
Vieira also released a message to a mourning community:
“The Johnston Police Department offers our sincere condolences to the May and Harrison families. The juvenile victim in this case has shown incredible courage and resiliency and we pray for her speedy recovery. The Johnston Police Department commends the assistance provided by the Cranston Police Department, the Providence Police Department, and the Rhode Island State Police in swiftly locating this armed and dangerous individual. As we continue to investigate this incident, we would also like to thank the Office of the Attorney General for their assistance.”
Later the day of the shooting, Vieira and Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael J. Winquist organized and spoke at a press conference.
The chiefs publicly identified the now-dead suspect as Harrison.
“To my knowledge, he did not have a criminal record in Rhode Island,” Vieira said of Harrison.
According to Winquist, an off-duty Cranston emergency dispatcher spotted the suspect and his vehicle at St. Ann Cemetery. Harrison was seated in his vehicle.
“Multiple Cranston police officers responded to the cemetery,” Winquist said. “When they arrived, the suspect drove at these police officers head-on, nearly striking them.”
A pursuit followed, involving “multiple Cranston Police officers … as well as some officers from the Providence Police Department Task Force,” Winquist said.
The pursuit bled into multiple towns, including Cranston, Providence and Johnston.
“As he drove on Plainfield Pike, he swerved at multiple police cars, striking a police vehicle,” Winquist told police. “At some point, he was traveling the wrong way down Plainfield Pike.”
At some point, the suspect “lost control of the vehicle and struck a rock,” Winquist said.
“Multiple Cranston Police Officers and a Providence Police Officer Detective approached, formed a perimeter and ordered the suspect out of the vehicle,” Winquist told the media. “This lasted a matter of minutes … The suspect eventually did exit the vehicle, brandishing a firearm, a handgun, which he pointed at the officers. At that point the officers fired, killing the suspect.”
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office will now lead the investigation into the apprehension and suspect shooting by police.
“As with any police-involved shooting, the Attorney General’s protocol is invoked, and that’s what’s going on now,” Winquist said, confirming that a “multi-jurisdictional investigation is underway and ongoing.”
The entire police shooting incident was captured on uniform-worn police body cameras. Winquist said a bystander on the scene also took video of the police shooting.
“Most fortunately, not a single officer was injured,” Winquist said, adding that several officers were sent to hospital for observation.
Police said they could not confirm how many shots were fired at the suspect by police.
Witnesses working along Plainfield Pike reported hearing “more than 50 gunshots” after police shot and apprehended the suspect along Plainfield Pike, which is the border between Johnston and Cranston.
Dan Chiovitti was watching the massive police presence gathered along Plainfield Pike, from a parking lot at the intersection with Simmonsville Avenue.
“I saw the smoke,” he said. “And then I heard a lot of gunshots — at least 50.”
“Multiple shots were fired, we don’t have a number,” Winquist said. “That’s part of the investigation.”
Winquist said that both Cranston and Providence police officers “fired shots at the suspect.”
While the suspect was on-the-loose, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. said he was instructing Johnston Police to send extra law enforcement to local schools until the situation was resolved.
After police neutralized the suspect, Polisena posted the following Tweet: "I was informed this morning of a triple shooting in Johnston. I can now confirm the suspect has been apprehended and the danger to the public is over."
HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE: Police from multiple departments converged on a shooting suspect’s car along Plainfield Pike, on the Johnston/Cranston border, early Wednesday morning. (Sun Rise photos by Rory Schuler)
CRIME SCENE: Johnston Police blocked off Ligian Court following reports of a triple shooting Wednesday morning. (Sun Rise photos by Rory Schuler)
BLOCKING THE STREET: Cranston Police ran crime scene tape across Plainfield Pike early Wednesday morning after police shot a man wanted in a Johnston triple-shooting.
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