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Baton Rouge Police work the scene of a fatal shooting on Alaska Street near the Alaska Street BREC Park late Thursday night, September 15, 2017, a block from LSU's campus and within eyeshot of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Latest: Baton Rouge Police detain person of interest for questioning in two recent homicides

ORIGINAL STORY

Baton Rouge police began a citywide manhunt Friday for a gunman believed to have killed two pedestrians this week in apparently random shootings, according to four law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. 

Authorities linked the fatal shootings through ballistic testing and launched on Friday what one official described as an "all out hunt" for the suspected triggerman, described in a law enforcement document as a white male of medium build with a military style haircut who may be wearing a tactical vest.

"This is our top priority," interim Baton Rouge Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said Friday. "We have tons of officers" looking for the shooter. 

The gunman is believed to have fatally shot two men this week, with the most recent shooting occurring late Thursday night on Alaska Street. But Dunnam said detectives will also be reviewing previous homicides to determine whether they might also be related. 

Police have released few details about the shootings, both of which happened late at night between 10:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. The first happened Tuesday night in 3400 block of Florida Boulevard and took the life of Bruce Cofield, a 59-year-old man who appeared to be homeless. A witness told The Advocate earlier this week that she heard about a dozen shots fired — six shots, then a pause, then six more.

The second shooting happened Thursday night in the 3400 block of Alaska Street. Police said Donald Smart, 49, was found lying dead in the road suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. His killing marked the 73rd homicide this year in East Baton Rouge Parish. An internal BRPD bulletin that was disseminated to Louisiana law enforcement Friday noted that Smart was walking to his job of 30 years. 

In both cases, the gunman shot the men, both of whom were on foot, then exited his car and "shot them to death," according to the bulletin. In both murders, the suspect was wearing dark clothes, including possibly a tactical vest, and carrying a 9-mm handgun. Video shows the man driving a red, four-door "small, older sedan with shiny rims," the bulletin says.

A national ballistics database has connected the two killings, the bulletin says.

Baton Rouge detectives have urged neighboring law enforcement agencies to help them search for the man, whom they described as a white man, about 5-foot-9, medium build, with a close "military-style" haircut. While both victims were black, Dunnam said there is no evidence to say the killings are racially motivated. 

"We ask each of you to assist with the apprehension of this shooter. We cannot predict where this person may strike again, if at all he does," Capt. Ricky Arnett wrote in the bulletin. "Please take time this evening and every evening until this person is apprehended to actively search for this car and suspect." 

Anyone with information about the homicides is urged to contact the Violent Crimes Unit at (225) 389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at (225) 344-7867.

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Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.