UPDATED at 1 p.m. Tuesday with chief's comments
FLORISSANT • One of the bullets that struck Officer Michael Vernon when he was shot by a burglary suspect Monday morning lodged in his spine, with paralysis feared, according to Florissant Police Chief William Karabas.
"With these type of injuries, it's possible," Karabas said.
Brian Lamont Cannon Jr., 20, was charged Tuesday with assault on a law enforcement officer, armed criminal action and burglary in connection with the shooting at about 3 a.m. Monday.
Cannon burglarized a home at about a half-hour before the shooting and activated a burglar alarm. He ran and hid from police. He jumped up from a trash bin and fired several shots at Vernon who was searching for him, court documents allege.
Vernon was in critical but stable condition in a local hospital's intensive care unit after being shot three times. He suffered a spinal cord injury, and one of the bullets penetrated his lungs, police say.
Vernon, 33, is a seven-year member of the Florissant Police Department and an Iraq War veteran.
"We are hoping and praying for him," said Karabas, who said he spent 12 hours at the hospital with Vernon's wife. "It's unfortunate, but there is so much violence in the community and attacks against police officers. It's senseless."
Karabas said Vernon has been in and out of consciousness.
"Officer Vernon is in high spirits, and he is determined to fight through his injuries and make a recovery," according to a press release issued just before noon Tuesday by the Florissant Police Department. "Officer Vernon appreciates the community’s outpouring of support."
Vernon was shot as he searched for a burglar behind a vacant bank in a strip mall on North Lindbergh Boulevard. Authorities said Vernon found a pair of shorts that seemed out of place and was investigating when Cannon popped up from his hiding place and fired several shots, striking Vernon three times from about five feet away.
Police spokesman Andy Haarmann said Vernon gave police a good description of the man who shot him. Cannon was found nearby, in the backyard of a home, with the help of a police dog. Cannon lives in the 5200 block of Wren Avenue in St. Louis. Bail was set at $500,000, cash only.
Police say Cannon burglarized a home in the 1800 block of Banstead Drive and set off the burglary alarm at 2:37 a.m. Monday.
Officers arrived to find people fleeing out the back door and jumping over fences to get away, and called for more help. Vernon was in his patrol car nearby and came to assist. He was shot while checking near businesses in the 2800 block of North Lindbergh Boulevard.
After he was shot, Vernon was taken to DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton. A hospital spokeswoman was unavailable Tuesday morning to provide an update on the officer's condition.
Haarmann on Monday said that Vernon was "in and out of consciousness," adding "He's not nearly out of the woods."
Vernon, who hails from Springfield, has spent seven years with the Florissant police, three as a corrections officer and four as a patrolman. He's an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, and is married with no children.
Haarmann said that Vernon's family was at his bedside. The Missouri Highway Patrol flew Vernon's mother to the hospital to be with her son, and drove his in-laws here. Other relatives who live out of state are heading here also, he said.
Vernon is married, but has no children, Karabas said.
According to Missouri court records, Cannon pleaded guilty in 2010 to burglaries and theft in Ladue and Clayton. In both cases, a St. Louis County judge sentenced Cannon to seven years in prison, but he got a suspended execution of sentence and was given five years' probation and 120-day "shock time" in jail.
Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect corrections to earlier information released by authorities. Florissant Police Chief William Karabas' name, which was misspelled in an earlier version of this story, has also been corrected.