A 12-year veteran of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office was shot and killed Sunday in western Sedgwick County.
Robert Kunze was shot while responding to a suspicious character call, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said during a Sunday evening news conference. A second person, the suspect, was also killed.
“Tragedy has struck the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office,” Easter said. “A family member of ours has been killed in the line of duty.”
Kunze was called at around 1:18 p.m. to the area of North 295th Street West and West 21st Street, just north of Garden Plain and about 20 miles west of downtown Wichita.
When Kunze arrived at about 1:42 p.m. Sunday, he saw a person who matched the description of the suspicious character, Easter said. Then, at about 1:48 p.m., Kunze “activated the emergency button on his portable radio,” the sheriff’s office said.
Another deputy responded and found both Kunze and the suspect on the ground, Easter said.
Kunze was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis by ambulance and pronounced dead at around 2:55 p.m.
The male suspect was pronounced dead at the scene and has not yet been identified by law enforcement.
Deputy Robert K. Kunze III, 41, joined the department in 2006, Easter said. He previously had been deputy with the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office for six years. He is survived by his wife and a child.
He worked on first watch and was the leader of the critical accident team, Easter said. Kunze was also trained as a field training deputy and was a certified radar and LIDAR instructor.
“He worked with great pride, loved and encouraged the people who worked with him, but most of all he loved his family,” Easter said.
Kunze had been dispatched to a suspicious character call. The callers reported that someone was driving a black truck and two ATV-type vehicles were also nearby, Easter said. The callers then followed the black truck.
When Kunze arrived at the scene, he found the hood open on the suspect’s black vehicle, Easter said. The callers’ truck was parked in front of the suspect’s vehicle.
Kunze had patted down the suspect and found a 40-caliber handgun in the suspect’s waistband, Easter said. The gun was placed away from the two of them, but a fight ensued when Kunze went to handcuff the suspect.
Kunze’s service weapon was discharged in the incident, but investigators do not know if the suspect’s 40-caliber handgun was fired, Easter said.
About 6 minutes after getting to the scene, Kunze pressed his emergency button and alerted dispatch that he had been shot, Easter said. A second deputy arrived about a minute later, and two witnesses hiding behind the trucks said shots had been fired.
The suspect was lying face-down in the ditch area, and Kunze was lying on his side next to the suspect, Easter said. A 40-caliber handgun was found next to the suspect. The second deputy handcuffed the suspect and started administering first aid to Kunze.
Kunze had been shot once in his upper torso above his ballistic vest, Easter said. The suspect was shot in his upper torso and waist.
Neither Kunze nor the suspect were responsive to medical treatment at the scene, Easter said. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. Paramedics took Kunze to a hospital, where he was also pronounced dead.
Deputy vehicles have a dash camera, but investigators have not been able to download any footage, Easter said. Area roads will remain blocked off overnight as investigators work to download the video to see if there is other evidence they should search for in the area. However, the camera’s view may have been obscured by the other vehicles.
The area near the scene of the shooting is mostly open fields with a few farmsteads. It is about five miles east of Cheney Reservoir.
The suspect is thought to be connected to three other crimes in the area on Sunday, Easter said.
Wichita police reported a silver Dodge was stolen possibly during an aggravated robbery, early Sunday morning, Easter said. Deputy Kunze reported later that morning that a 40-caliber weapon was stolen from a vehicle in the 3300 block of West MacArthur. The black Chevy the suspect had been driving before the shooting had been reported stolen in the 3800 block of West MacArthur.
Cheney police found the silver Dodge on Sunday evening.
There are no other suspects in the shooting death of Kunze, Easter said, but there may be other suspects in the connected cases.
Funeral arraignments for Kunze have not been finalized, Easter said.
“We will always remember him for his smile, his contagious laugh and his ability to engage anyone and everyone in a conversation,” Easter said. “Deputy Kunze will be absolutely missed, and we ask for you to please pray for him and his family. The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office has suffered a great loss today, and a life-altering tragedy for Deputy Kunze’s family.”
Prior to Sunday’s shooting, 29 Sedgwick County law enforcement officers had been killed in the line of duty, including eight from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, according to the law enforcement memorial.
The most recent was Deputy Brian Scott Etheridge, who was shot during an ambush Sept. 28, 2009.
Sheriff Easter’s brother, Deputy Kevin S. Easter was killed Jan. 8, 1996, following a traffic stop.