LAURINBURG, N.C. (AP) _ A man armed with an assault rifle killed an acquaintance and critically wounded a policeman before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.

Police Sgt. Doug Bowen, 36, was in critical condition early today after surgery for a gunshot wound in his lower abdomen. A single bullet passed under his bulletproof vest.

The incident Thursday evening began when Larry Montrell Patterson, 21, armed with a 7.62 mm SKS semiautomatic rifle, confronted Eddie Lee McLean, 34, at his home, police Lt. Jack Poe said.

``There had been a previous confrontation between Patterson and McLean,'' Poe said today. ``Last night was the climax of it.''

Poe said Patterson walked up to McLean outside his house and shot him. He then fired at a passing car, slightly injuring a young girl, before trying to hide behind a wall, Poe said.

``He got behind the wall and started firing again'' at a crowd that had begun to gather while officers started interviewing witnesses, Poe said. One of the bullets struck Bowen.

Patterson then turned the rifle on himself, Poe said.