PARKLAND, Wash. - A 37-year-old man with an extensive criminal past was sought for questioning last night after four police officers were fatally shot at a coffee shop as they sat working on their laptops.

One of the officers fought with the gunman and may have wounded him before dying just outside the doorway of the shop, said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer, who described yesterday morning's shootings as a targeted ambush.

Troyer said Maurice Clemmons of Tacoma was one of several people investigators wanted to talk to. The sheriff's office said Clemmons had an extensive violent criminal history in Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. He also recently was arrested and charged in Pierce County with assaulting a police officer and raping a child.

The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, which adjoins the unincorporated area of Parkland, where the shootings took place. They were identified as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswald, 40; and Greg Richards, 42.

Investigators say they think two of the officers were shot dead while sitting in the Forza Coffee Shop and a third was killed after standing up, Troyer said. The fourth apparently struggled with the gunman, getting off a few shots before collapsing outside the door.

"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight . . . that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said.

Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a robbery gone bad.

"This was more of an execution," he said.

Troyer said the officers were catching up on paperwork at the start of their shift when they were attacked at 8:15 a.m. Pacific time. The coffee shop is in a small retail center.

"There were marked patrol cars outside, and they were all in uniform," Troyer said.

He said the gunman entered and walked up to the counter as though to place an order. A barista saw a gun when the man opened his jacket and she fled out the back door. The man then turned and opened fire on the officers.

Troyer said a couple of hundred officers from the Washington State Patrol and other agencies were at the crime scene, some on their own time.