A manhunt is underway after two police officers from the Kusel police district in western Germany were shot dead during a routine traffic stop in the early hours of Monday morning.
A 29-year-old policeman and a 24-year-old policewoman were killed.
They were able to radio to colleagues, "They're shooting," prior to their deaths after spotting dead game in the vehicle the group traveled in. As a result of this knowledge, authorities are seeking more than one individual.
One suspect is believed to have already been known to the police because of a hit-and-run incident. The man was said to possess a weapons permit.
The two officers who died were in uniform at the time but were driving an unmarked car.
The shooting occurred on a rural road, Kreisstrasse 22, at around 4:20 a.m. The road was entirely closed afterward.
"Police are seeking the fleeing perpetrators intensively and are securing clues at the crime scene," said a police statement. "A description of the perpetrator or the vehicle they are using is not available. The direction they fled is not known."
"At least one of the perpetrators is armed," the statement from the local Westpfalz police headquarters said.
Later on Monday, police from the nearby city of Kaiserslautern named one of the suspects as 38-year-old Andreas Johannes Schmitt from Spiesen-Elversberg in the neighboring state of Saarland. They warned the public that he had brown hair and a beard, and to stay away if they saw him.
What is the reaction in Germany?
Marco Buschmann, the German justice minister, said, "This terrible act leaves you stunned."
Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, "Irrespective of what motive lies beneath the crime, this crime is reminiscent of an execution and it shows how police officers risk their lives for us every day."
Rhineland-Palatinate's state premier Malu Dreyer and Interior Minister Roger Lewentz said they were "deeply saddened" by the tragedy.
"It troubles me greatly that two young people have lost their lives while serving," Dreyer said.
They ordered flags at half-mast in Rhineland-Palatinate state and said mourning flags would be available for patrol cars.
One of Germany's major police unions, the GdP, said it was "deeply shocked by the violent deaths of our colleagues."
"Our thoughts are with the relatives of those killed and also with our colleagues. We are currently living every officer's nightmare," Rhineland Palatinate state chairwoman of the union Sabine Kunz said in a statement. "Hopefully the perpetrator or perpetrators can be apprehended quickly so that potential danger to the wider population is averted."
Kunz added that she hoped locals would refrain from attending anti-coronavirus restrictions protests Monday "out of consideration for what has happened here."
Green Party chairman Omid Nouripour called the deaths "extremely, extremely depressing." Speaking from the capital Berlin, he also noted the all the "millions of hours and overtime" officers had put in during the pandemic.
"If they are so under threat to their lives during traffic controls, that is a very, very difficult matter," Nouripour said.
What is happening in the investigation?
Police have sealed off the Kreisstrasse 22 road between the Mayweilerhof and Ulmet areas. They later warned of other potential traffic disruptions nearby as a result of the search.
Kaiserslautern police also said that they had expanded their search to include the neighboring state of Saarland, as the border to Saarland just a short drive west of the site of the shooting.
Police also requested people refrain from picking up hitchhikers in the area.
Witnesses or those who may have information were advised to contact the Kaiserslautern police at +496313692528.
Kusel is roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) southwest of Frankfurt and 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Kaiserslautern, near the US military base Ramstein. That is also near the border with France and Luxembourg.
ar,es/msh (dpa, AFP)