Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer said the person they are seeking is Maurice Clemmons, who is a fugitive from Arkansas with a lengthy criminal record.
Investigators now believe the gunman also may have been shot during the cold-blooded assault, as one of the officers returned fire just before he died of his injuries.
Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer called the assault "a targeted attack" on the four Lakewood police officers as they were preparing to start their shifts at about 8:15 a.m.
Officials determined to find the gunman posted a $100,000 reward leading to his capture and arrest.
Troyer said investigators have learned that the gunman stood in line the Forza Coffee Co. outlet at 11401 Steele St. South as if he were there to buy some coffee.
When he reached the counter, the barista saw him pull a gun our of his coat. She fled, thinking the gunman was about to target her.
Instead, he turned and fired point-blank at the four uniformed officers as they were working on their laptop computers.
Two officers were hit before they had to react. One officer was shot as he attempted to struggle with the gunman. Another officer fired off some shots toward the gunman as he fled, and may have hit him, Troyer said.
"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight ... that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said. "We hope the suspect was shot, because that would tell us who it is. There aren't a whole lot of people running around with gunshot wounds." Two baristas and a handful of other customers were inside the coffee shop at the time of the attack, but none of them were shot or injured. The suspect fled without taking any money.
Troyer described the scene inside the coffee shop as "carnage and a scene out of a horror movie."
Three male officers and one female officer all died at the scene, despite the fact that they were wearing bullet-proof vests. "They were just flat executed," Troyer said. "Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers."
State Attorney General Rob McKenna termed the shootings an "assassination." Officials said a handgun was used in the shooting, but they have not identified the make or caliber of the weapon.
Troyer said officers were looking for one male suspect who fled the scene and haven't ruled out an accomplice, possibly a getaway driver.
About 2 1/2 hours after the deadly ambush, officers identified a white Chevy pickup truck abandoned at 134th Street and Pacific Avenue South that is believed to be the one that the suspect fled in.
Soon after, there was a standoff reported between officers and one or more people inside a residence a few blocks away, but it turned out to have no connection with the case, police said.
A $120,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to the arrest of the suspect or any possible accomplices, Troyer said. An emergency tip line has been set up, at 866-977-2362, for callers to report any helpful information.
Troyer encouraged anyone who knows someone with an unexplained gunshot wound to call the tip line.
The suspect was described as a black male in his mid-20s to mid-30s, standing 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-10, medium build, with scruffy facial hair, wearing blue jeans and a black coat with a hood.
Troyer said the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department initially responded to a 911 call of shots fired at the Forza Coffee Co. outlet at 11401 Steele St. S. in Parkland.
When deputies arrived, they found the four Lakewood police officers shot and killed inside the coffee shop, he said.
"Two baristas and a few customers were inside the coffee shop at the time of the shooting. They were not injured but all are in shock and traumatized. It appears the officers were targeted and ambushed by the suspect," Troyer said in a statement.
Within minutes of the first 911 call, hundreds of investigators and police were rushing to the scene. Roads were blocked in the vicinity of the attack.
"I've never seen so many cops," said one witness as officers converged on the area.
The coffee shop where the shootings took place is owned by Brad Carpenter, a retired police officer, KOMO News has confirmed.
The incident is being investigated by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from the Tacoma Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management and the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, Troyer said.
"There will be a large police presence in Pierce County throughout the day as large numbers of law enforcement follow up on leads and tips," he said. "The public in urged to stay away from any police activity."
McKenna said he is turning all the resources of his office toward finding and prosecuting the gunman.
"I have directed all of the criminal justice resources of this office ... be made available to those conducting the investigation into these assassinations," McKenna said. "Our prosecutors and investigators stand ready to help bring those who committed this murderous act to justice."
A prayer vigil for the four slain Lakewood police officers is being held at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Champions Centre, a nondenominational Christian church, at 1819 E. 72nd St., in Tacoma with seating for 3,000.
Pastor Sue Kahawaii says the congregation includes Lakewood officers and Pierce County sheriff's deputies. She says the vigil will include guided prayers and give people a place to express grief.
The deadly shootings come less than a month after Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was shot to death in cold blood as he was sitting in a cruiser with trainee Britt Sweeney on Halloween night. Sweeney was grazed in the neck.
Christopher Monfort of Tukwila has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in connection with Brenton's death.
For more coverage of the shootings, go to lakewood.komonews.com.