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article imageGunfire and chaos in downtown Dallas

By Laura Buckman, with Daniel Woolls in Washington (AFP)     Jul 8, 2016 in World

The mayhem of booming gunfire and terrified people scurrying for safety in the heart of Dallas seemed to last forever.

Thursday night's sniper attack against police began at twilight as people of all races and ages, including parents pushing baby strollers, rallied peacefully over two fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.

In a matter of seconds, civilians and police officers -- some in full black uniforms or other in summer shorts uniforms -- were cowering behind cars and pinning themselves against buildings as the sounds of high-power gunfire rang out.

"I didn't see anybody else get shot, just the cops. I saw cops getting shot, right there in plain sight," Cortney Washington told the NBC affiliate for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"While we was running, they just kept shooting," Washington said. "We didn't know where it was coming from."

Police officers shot dead in Dallas
Police officers shot dead in Dallas
Thomas Saint-Cricq, Sophie Ramis, AFP

The rapid fire was deafening as shots echoed off office buildings in the downtown area of the Texan city, infamous for being the site of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

"Somebody is really armed to the teeth," a man is heard saying amid the loud staccato of Thursday's gunfire in one amateur video posted online. "This is a person with a big magazine."

The unidentified person spoke as the camera focused on a downtown intersection and parking lot. A police car with its siren blaring races by.

When all of this was over, five officers had been shot dead and seven wounded, as were two civilians.

A man lies on the ground after yelling "Don't shoot me!" at police during a rally in ...
A man lies on the ground after yelling "Don't shoot me!" at police during a rally in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday, July 7, 2016 to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
Laura Buckman, AFP

A suspect holed up in a parking garage at El Centro College was killed by an explosive device driven in by a police robot after police had negotiated with him for hours.

During those negotiations, the suspect said he was upset about police shootings of black men and wanted to kill white people, specifically white cops, police said.

- 'Petrified' -

Earlier, as night fell and the sky turned a dark blue lit up by the flashing red flashes of patrol cars, the maelstrom dragged on.

People rally in Dallas to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile  on July 7  2016
People rally in Dallas to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, on July 7, 2016
Laura Buckman, AFP

Another horrific video posted online shows a gunman -- police are not saying how many suspects there are -- dart out from behind a pillar at the foot of a building, sneak up behind a police officer and shoot him in the back. The cop falls to the ground.

Witness Patrick Cooper filmed from the ground floor of El Centro College as a gunman with what he described as a long gun ran in and upstairs. Cooper took refuge in a bathroom. Again, the boom of gunshots is terrifyingly loud.

"I was petrified. I didn't know what to do," Cooper told CNN on Friday.

"The gunshots that were all around me, and I'm thinking they're firecrackers or something else. When I come outside to look, I see a suspect, somebody just running, running towards where I'm at and going upstairs."

He added: "It was the shooter."

Clarissa Pyles, 23, had been in the street protest and started hearing explosions when she stopped to eat at a McDonald's. A cop told her and other people to get down.

"There was a pop-pop-pop-pop," at least 30 times, Pyles told the Houston Chronicle.

"I didn't know what was going on. I just started running for my life," she said.

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