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Lancaster County DA: 'He wanted to kill police officers'

Written by Ted Czeck/The York Daily Record | Aug 2, 2016 9:18 AM
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Trenton Nace, 18, of Columbia (Photo: Lancaster County Prison)

Family of alleged shots-fired suspect Marquell Robert Rentas, 17, helped police in his arrest

(Lancaster) -- When rifle shots began echoing among the tightly packed homes early Friday morning in Columbiaand responding officers realized the bullets were meant for them, it didn't take long to develop a suspect from the small borough, a police detective said Monday.

At 17, Marquell Robert Rentas already had accrued a criminal record. In addition, he had been spotted at police incidents in the recent past, making negative statements toward police, Columbia Borough Police Detective Matt Leddy said.

"He wanted to kill police officers," Stedman said. "There's no question the whole thing is anti-police driven."

Beginning at 3:25 a.m. Friday, the shots continued on and off until just after 4 a.m. Enveloped in darkness, with the shots reverberating around them, and not knowing how many shooters there were, police pulled back and called for help, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said.

It was possible Rentas and his alleged accomplice, Trenton Nace, 18, who is also his cousin, fired the first shots in a plot to draw police to the area to then attack them, the DA said Monday.

"We can't say for sure at this point," Stedman said. "But one of the ways to get police officers there is to have a shots-fired incident."

In the ensuing investigation, one of the officers who was fired upon, Columbia Police Officer Brent Smith, spoke with Rentas' mother, Luz Rentas, who told him her son was staying at a relative's house in the 100 block of Bethel Street, according to a search warrant.

Using a key to the home provided by another family member, police stormed the home and found Rentas and Nace on the second floor. Following his arrest, Rentas said, "I was shooting at you. F--- you, police," the warrant states.

Leddy commended the Rentas family for helping to bring a peaceful conclusion to the incident.

"They were very cooperative with us ... obviously, they didn't want to see their family member harmed; they didn't want to see police harmed," he said.

Targeting police

Columbia's shots-fired incident was the latest in a number of police-related shootings nationwide, involving both officers and civilians as victims, that are indicative of a larger issue of social upheaval, police say.

Last month, two black men were killed in shootings by police. Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop in Minnesota, and Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during an encounter with police, who say he had a gun as he wrestled with two white officers, the Associated Press reported.

Then, on July 7, during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest over the deaths of Castile and Sterling, Micah Xavier Johnson opened fire in Dallas, Texas, killing five police officers. In a subsequent standoff, Johnson told negotiators he was upset over the recent killings and wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, according to USA Today.

"It's almost a daily basis," Stedman said. "It's just going on and on."

Stedman said that with the information he has now, he does not believe the incident in Columbia was racially motivated. On court dockets, Nace's race is classified as white, while Rentas' race is classified as black. Stedman said at least two of the police officers who responded to the shots fired were white, although he was not sure of the others

"He didn't say, 'I just only want to kill white police officers' ... he was saying, 'F the police,' not 'F white police,'" Stedman said.

Protecting the public and themselves

Stedman said the possibility that officers could have been hurt or killed, in addition to civilians, was very high during the incident.

"This is not shooting into a field, there's houses there," Stedman said of the area where the shots were fired.

The dilemma police face is that they are sworn to respond when called but now must fear an ambush during any of those calls, said Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump, commander of the York County Quick Response Team, which assisted in the response.

What is encouraging is that most of the public respects police and that it is only "a small group of people that are fighting against those who are trying to help and protect them," he said.

"It's a scary situation for everybody involved," Stump said. "Officers today just have to be hyper-vigilant, have situational awareness non-stop."

Community meeting

In response to the incident, the Lancaster Branch NAACP has scheduled a news conference for noon on Tuesday at Mt. Zion AME Church, 222. S. 5th St., Columbia, and a community meeting there at 6 p.m. Thursday, according to branch spokesman Ismail Smith-Wade-El.

Smith-Wade-El said the purpose of the events was to encourage "cooler heads ... so that no tensions are escalated."

He further explained that he was not aware of any tensions in Columbia between residents and police, but that their events were scheduled in light of national unrest.

"We really just want to take the opportunity to support ongoing collaboration between communities and police and wherever it doesn't exist, we'd like to foster and help create it," he said.

Those arrested

Marquell Robert Rentas, 17, and Trenton Michael Nace, 18, both of Columbia, are each charged with four counts of attempted criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer.

On Monday, they remained in Lancaster County Prison on $2 million bail each. A preliminary hearing for both is scheduled for Aug. 12 before District Judge Miles K. Bixler, according to charging documents. 

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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