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Police surround home, but man wasn't there

February 24, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - As police surrounded a South Locust Street home in what was believed to be a barricade situation involving an armed man, streets were closed, officers staged in nearby yards, Special Response Team members assembled and Bester Elementary school delayed the release of some students.

All the while, the man authorities believed was inside wasn't, but was walking back toward the scene.

At about 2:45 p.m., officers from the Hagerstown Police Department and deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department were dispatched to 325 S. Locust St., said sheriff's department Sgt. Timothy Baker.

Officers and deputies at the scene said it was believed that the man, whose identity was not released, was inside the Locust Street home and possibly was suicidal. They also said it was believed he was in possession of a gun and had his 15-month-old child with him.

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As a result, some children were held late at Bester Elementary School and traffic on several nearby roads was re-routed or, in some cases, stopped.

Baker said the incident began as a call to check on somebody's well-being at about 2:20 p.m. Baker said the man's girlfriend told police he threatened to harm himself.

As 4 p.m. approached, officers using an amplification device tried to contact the man believed to be in the home.

"Like I said, I'm here to listen to anything you have to say ... We just want to talk to you. That's all we want to do. We're not going to do anything," the negotiator said.

While negotiators continued to attempt to make contact and while officers nearly a block away were looking up South Locust Street toward the home, a handcuffed man was led toward a waiting police cruiser inside the police perimeter that blocked access to the road.

The thin white man with tattoos on each forearm and wearing a yellow T-shirt, baggy jeans and a gray sweatshirt was placed in the cruiser between 4 p.m. and 4:20 p.m.

"I ain't got nothing in my pockets," the man said to city police officers.

Baker said the man contacted police in the area where South Potomac and South Locust streets meet.

"He just walked up to one of the guys (officers) and said, 'I think y'all are looking for me,'" Baker said.

City police Sgt. Paul Kifer said the man left the South Locust Street residence after making a distraught call, which stemmed from a domestic argument with his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend over custody issues.

"He left shortly after that conversation and went to visit a relative at the (Washington County) Hospital. That family member had the 15-month-old child," Kifer said.

Kifer said deputies and officers were unaware that the man was not in the house as they waited outside.

Baker and Kifer said no criminal charges were filed Wednesday against the man, who was taken to Washington County Hospital for an emergency evaluation.

Washington County Board of Education spokeswoman Carol Mowen said that at the request of police, the school system kept students who usually walk home from the school from leaving the building. Mowen said buses were permitted to leave and parents who came to the school were permitted to take their children.

Mowen said parents appeared to be understanding about the late dismissal "once they knew why they were being held, for safety."

Eric McDonald, a father of two Bester Elementary students, praised the way police and the school handled the situation.

"They had the kids inside safe and the kids on the bus safe," McDonald said as he prepared to drive out of the Bester lot. "They did an A-1 job. I'm happy."

Several other parents echoed the sentiment.

Katrina Foster, whose son attends the school, said the children could have been traumatized if they had seen what was happening just more than one block away.

"My son would have been terrified if he saw all the police and barricades," Foster said.

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