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Published October 27, 2010, 08:03 PM

Police: Man Set Fire, Ambushed Responders in Fairmont, MN

A man in the southern Minnesota city of Fairmont set a house on fire in a plot to ambush first responders, then shot and wounded a police officer and a neighbor who arrived to help before turning the gun on himself, police said Wednesday.

By: Associated Press,

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man in the southern Minnesota city of Fairmont set a house on fire in a plot to ambush first responders, then shot and wounded a police officer and a neighbor who arrived to help before turning the gun on himself, police said Wednesday.

Fairmont police did not immediately release the name of the man, who was found dead inside the house from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Police officer Chad Sanow and the neighbor, Matthew Von Watermulen, were hospitalized Wednesday and in stable condition.

Authorities did not say what might have prompted the ambush or if the homeowner, who has a police record, was the gunman.

Police said in a news release that officers and firefighters were called to a house fire around 7:30 on Tuesday night. Sanow was the first to arrive, and he and Von Watermulen approached the front of the residence together.

"While attempting to determine if there were victims in the house and if a rescue was needed, Officer Sanow and Von Watermulen were both shot," police said.

Sanow, a six-year officer, was shot in the chest and Von Watermulen the abdomen. Additional officers were called to the scene along with an ambulance.

The Sentinel of Fairmont reported that law enforcement officers, at least one carrying an assault rifle, were warning people on street corners Tuesday night to stand back because the area was not secured.

Police said Wednesday that when they searched the property, they found the man dead inside the house. They believe he was the only gunman.

"The fire is also believed to have been arson started by the gunman in an attempt to ambush the first responders," they said in the release.

According to the Sentinel, Fairmont police Lt. Del Ellis became teary-eyed during a news conference on Wednesday. He said a bulletproof vest saved Sanow's life.

"Officer Sanow went there to save lives, and this gunman decided he wanted to kill a cop," Ellis said. "This has rocked the law enforcement community. We all know the dangers of the job, but last night we faced a very grim situation, and our hats are off to Officer Sanow for doing such a great job."

Martin County property records show the home as being owned by Michael Mathwig, who has had previous contact with authorities. Court records show Mathwig, 49, is currently on probation after pleading guilty in April to one count of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was accused of exposing himself to a neighbor girl who was younger than 16, according to the criminal complaint in that case.

Mathwig also was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2006 and driving while under the influence in 1998, according to records.

It's not clear if Mathwig was the Tuesday night gunman.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is assisting Fairmont police and Martin County sheriff's officials with the investigation.

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