South Fayette Police officers Charles Handerhan, Bryan Monyak and Collin Griffith were recognized Oct. 14 by commissioners and police chief for the valor and courage demonstrated during a July 18th standoff at Knight’s Inn on Hickory Grade Road in South Fayette.
“I was in church,” said Police Chief John Phoennik, “when I received a phone call from Officer Handerhan explaining the situation.”
It all started when a 15-year-old girl was reported missing by her parents to the Duncan City Oklahoma Police Department on Friday, July 17, 2015.
“The juvenile was communicating with the suspect on Facebook,” said Chief Phoennik. “She willingly left with the man, without her parents’ permission.” The suspect was later identified by the Allegheny County Medical examiner as Walter Morris, 46, of Pittsburgh’s East End.
“He used to live in Bridgeville,” said Chief Phoennik. “He was a former employee of Exxon for years.”
Duncan City officers and the Oklahoma FBI office had traced the suspect’s phone and it gave a location in a wooded area south of the Knight’s Inn.
Officer Handerhan coordinated a search of the area with South Fayette officers Monyak and Griffith; as well as Officer David Bujakowski of the Bridgeville Police Department. K-9 units from North Fayette and Carnegie soon joined them. The men searched on foot from Melrose Cemetery to the Knights Inn and along the I-79 corridor.
“It was a moving crime scene,” said Chiefg Phoennik. “Handerhan did an excellent job with incident control.”
Eventually other municipalities joined the search, and the state police used their helicopter to assist.
Mr. Handerhan observed a black Jeep Wrangler at the hotel. He confirmed the vehicle was the suspect’s car, and told Mr. Griffith to secure the vehicle.
The FBI arrived and directed officers to search the hotel door-to-door.
Mr. Morris had locked himself in room 208 with the girl. Duncan Police were able to make contact with him. He informed officers he had a gun. Detective Smith of Duncan, was also able to speak with the girl.
“She said she was fine, but scared,” said Chief Phoennik.
“We kept thinking, ‘This isn’t going to end well,’” said Chief Phoennik. “The suspect was saying he was going to shoot her, then shoot himself.”
The FBI negotiated while Officer Handerhan, along with several other officers, cleared the occupants out of room 207.
Allegheny SWAT arrived on the scene at approximately 6:30.
“Multiple times the suspect said that he was going to let the girl out,” said Chief Phoennik. “One time he opened the door a crack to talk to the SWAT team, and they didn’t take advantage of it. They said that next time they were going to breach the door. They surrounded it, heard a shot, and immediately went into the room. Mr. Morris shot himself in a chair near the window.”
The girl was taken to Children's Hospital of UPMC of Pittsburgh to be examined. Her parents took her home the next day.
“She is lucky to be alive,” said Chief Phoennik. “These days, only a minority survive.” The standoff lasted about 6 hours.
The men were honored at the Oct. 14 township workshop meeting. “I am proud of them,” said Chief Phoennik. “Their training kicked in, and they handled a very difficult situation the way it should be handled.”
Amy Philips-Haller, freelance writer; firstname.lastname@example.org.