The dark blue Crown Victoria police cruiser was spotted about 3½ hours later, just across the state line in Mississippi, and the driver was arrested after a chase, said Lowndes County, Miss., Sheriff's Deputy Tony Mulligan.
Mulligan identified the driver as Devin Moore, 18, of Jasper, a town about 30 miles northeast of Fayette.
Moore's father, Kenneth Moore, told The Associated Press on Saturday that his son had a troubled history involving drugs and car theft but that he thought the young man had turned things around when he graduated from high school two weeks ago and announced he planned to join the Air Force.
"The people here that I've been talking to, I told he needs help," Kenneth Moore told the AP after his son's arrest.
The two Fayette police officers and dispatcher were shot to death inside the police station, near the town's City Hall, at about 5:30 a.m., said coroner Richard Nelson. A firefighter found the bodies and alerted authorities, and Moore was arrested at 9 a.m. about 12 miles west of the Alabama border.
At the time of the shooting, the suspect was being booked in connection with a stolen vehicle, said Fayette City Councilman David Brand.
Mayor Ray Nelson said the suspect had been handcuffed after being stopped about 3 a.m., but the handcuffs could have been removed during fingerprinting.
"There was a struggle," Nelson said, and an officer's weapon was taken by the suspect. Nelson said the department had 14 officers before the shooting.
"This is a tragedy for our community," Nelson said. The Alabama House of Representatives, in session Saturday, held a moment of silence for the victims.
Fayette City Councilman Cedric Wilson identified the dead as Cpl. James Crump, Officer Arnold Strickland and dispatcher Ace Mealer. He said he was familiar with the suspect but didn't know what could have motivated the shooting.
"That kind of boggles all of us, what would make him do such a thing," Wilson said.
He said the dead officers and dispatcher were alone in the police station at the time and that a firefighter, whose department is next door, found the bodies and called for help.
Moore's father told The AP that his son was a troubled young man.
"I kept telling people about it, going to the church and telling people he was a troubled child, but people didn't pay me no mind," he said. "I raised him from a baby, but people don't listen."
Kenneth Moore, 48, said he sent his son to live with the young man's mother two years ago because he couldn't control him. He said that his son would often steal his car and that last year his mother found a gun in the house belonging to him. It's unclear if the gun was ever turned over to the police.
"I'm a discipline parent and everybody around town knows I'm a good parent," Moore said. "One parent can't do it all by himself."
Doris Brasher, who owns a grocery store on Highway 96, said many in the close-knit town knew the three men who were killed.
"I was just upset about the policemen because Mr. Strickland - one of the officers who was killed - came by regularly and stopped in by the store and made sure I was OK," Brasher said. "He was a very nice man."
Fayette, a town of about 5,000 residents, is about 50 miles west of Birmingham in a mostly rural, forested area near Alabama's coal mines.