By JIM SALTER and JIM SUHR
FERGUSON, Mo. — Rioters looted and burned stores, vandalized vehicles and taunted riot police who tried to block access to parts of a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis after a candlelight vigil for an unarmed man who was fatally shot by an officer turned ugly.
The tensions erupted after a candlelight vigil Sunday night for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday in a scuffle with an officer.
Streets in Ferguson upended in the Sunday night riots were relatively quiet early Monday. Some debris littered the area but the angry crowds had dispersed. Police did not respond to calls by the Associated Press asking for details of arrests, law enforcement and violence in the unrest.
TV footage late Sunday showed streams of people carting bottles of alcohol from a liquor store, and video posted online by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed a convenience store on fire.
Several businesses were looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store. Some climbed atop police cars as the officers with riot shields and batons stood stoic nearby, trying to restrict access to the most seriously affected areas.
Mayor James Knowles told KTVI-TV that police struggled to catch any looters because the crimes were so widespread.
Deanel Trout, a 14-year resident of Ferguson, said he was convinced that the rioters were largely from outside Ferguson and that they had used Michael Brown’s death and the vigil as an opportunity to steal.
“Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. … I can understand the anger and unrest but I can’t understand the violence and looting,” Trout, 53, said.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said there were no reports of injuries as of about 11 p.m. But there were scattered reports of assaults into the early morning. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for Dooley, said tear gas had been used. Authorities would not immediately confirm media reports of gunfire.
“The small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Knowles said. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. … We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”
County Police Chief Jon Belmar said an officer encountered Brown and another man outside an apartment complex in Ferguson. One of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and they struggled. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer’s gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who fought with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn’t known and that all shell casings at the scene matched the officer’s gun. Police were investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged and it wasn’t clear if he was armed.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told KSDK-TV there’s no video footage of the shooting from the apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn’t yet put to use.
Jackson said blood samples were taken from Brown and the officer who shot him. Toxicology tests take weeks to complete.
Earlier Sunday, a few hundred protesters gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. Some marched into an adjacent police building chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said she didn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her high school graduate son with a club or stun gun, and that the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
Ferguson’s population of about 21,000 people is almost 70 percent black. The race of the officer has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation, and Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder instructed staff to monitor developments.