Officers killed, wounded in Stanton Heights standoff
April 4, 2009 2:00 PM
An officer dons his gear as police respond after a man involved in a domestic dispute opened fire on police today Stanton Heights, killing three officers and injuring two others.
Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper speaks to reporters following a deadly stand-off in the 1000 block of Fairfield Street in Stanton Heights, today.
Pittsburgh police file up Fairfield Street following a deadly stand-off in Stanton Heights today,.
Police officers stand by at the scene on Fairfield Street where three Pittsburgh police officers were killed this morning and two were wounded, after they responded to a domestic call.
Police from several jurisdictions responded after a man involved in a domestic dispute in the 1000 block of Fairfield St., Stanton Heights, fired an assault rifle at City of Pittsburgh police. Three police officers were killed and 2 were wounded.
City of Pittsburgh police surrounded the scene where a man involved in a domestic dispute in the 1000 block of Fairfield St., Stanton Heights, Pittsburgh, opened fire on police, killing three and injuring as many as two others.
Family members of the suspect in this morning's deadly standoff offer each other comfort at the scene.
By Michael Fuoco and Jerome L. Sherman Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three Pittsburgh police officers were killed and two others were injured after a heavily armed man began firing at them as they responded to a domestic call this morning at a home in Stanton Heights.
The 22-year-old suspected shooter, Richard "Pop" Poplawski, who told friends he was wearing a bulletproof vest, surrendered to police about 11 a.m., four hours after the standoff began at 1016 Fairfield St. He was shot several times in the legs and was being treated at UPMC Presbyterian.
City officials this afternoon identified the officers as Stephen Mayhle, a two-year veteran of the force, Eric Kelly, on the job for 14 years, and Paul Sciullo II, also a two-year veteran.
Police said Officer Mayhle was married and had two daughters, ages 3 and 6; Officer Kelly was married and had three daughters, ages 11, 16 and 22; and Officer Sciullo was single and engaged to be married.
One injured officer, 15-year-veteran Timothy McManaway, was treated at a hospital for a bullet wound, and the fifth officer, Brian Jones, suffered a broken leg.
Police Chief Nathan Harper said Mr. Poplawski will be charged with three counts of homicide.
Shortly after 1 p.m., city 911 dispatchers announced that flags in the city would be lowered to half staff and officers were to place black mourning bands over their badges "in honor of our deceased brothers . . . lest we forget."
The incident began at 7:05 a.m., after officers went to the address and the suspect opened fire, police said.
Chief Harper said three officers initially were wounded when Mr. Poplawski fired an assault rifle. The fourth and fifth officers were injured as they responded to the first shootings, the chief said.
For much of the morning, the standoff forced police to lock down the neighborhood as scores of officers converged on the house, where Mr. Poplawski had barricaded himself. At least one other family member was in the house.
Some of the wounded officers remained for a time where they fell because other officers could not reach them with bullets continuing to fly over their heads, according to Diane Richard, Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman.
A state police helicopter hovered overhead as more than 100 officers from Pittsburgh, the state, the district attorney's office and the Port Authority and the FBI converged along with neighbors and other onlookers.
Authorities as well as members of the suspect's family were in contact with Mr. Poplawski by phone. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was among the officials at the scene.
A neighbor and longtime friend Joe DiMarco and his mother, Darlene, said they spoke to Mr. Poplawski on the telephone this morning.
"He told me he loved me and that he'd been shot in the chest and leg," Ms. DiMarco said.
Another neighbor, Brian Merlina, said he was getting out of the shower at 7:30 a.m. when he heard rapid-fire gunshots. About 30 minutes later, he heard at least two dozen more shots fired.
Shortly thereafter, the state police helicopter landed in a field near his house. He said he drove a trooper who got out of the helicopter to the scene.
Utility crews cut off power to the house at 10:45 a.m. because they believed Mr. Poplawski was monitoring media reports. He surrendered a short time later.
Drew Stadler, 34, who lives nearby on Oglethorpe Street, said he heard loud bangs around 8 a.m. From his window, he saw Mr. Poplawski pointing what appeared to be a semiautomatic rifle and shooting at officers from a window above the garage of the Fairfield Street house.
SWAT officers were pinned down, with their protective shields up, at an adjacent house.
At one point, the SWAT officers pulled away a wounded officer and dragged him down the street, Mr. Stadler said. He also said he heard potentially hundreds of shots fired throughout the incident.
Other friends said Mr. Poplawski had several guns, including an AK-47 assault-type rifle, a .357 Magnum revolver, a .380-caliber handgun and a .45-caliber handgun. They also said they believed he had not been getting along with his mother.
Mr.Poplawski called Edward Perkovic, a longtime friend and former classmate at North Catholic High School, on a cell phone around 8:30 a.m. Mr. Perkovic said Mr. Poplawski told him he'd been shot in the chest and leg, but that the bulletproof vest he'd been wearing had shielded him.
Mr. Perkovic also said Mr. Poplawski told him: "Eddie, I'm going to die today. Tell your family and friends I love them. This is probably the end."
A burst of gunfire followed, and the call ended, Mr. Perkovic said. A short time later, he said, a city 911 official telephoned him and asked him to come to Fairfield Street and help to negotiate a surrender with Mr. Poplawski.
By the time he arrived there, however, the standoff had ended.
Mr. Perkovic and other former classmates said they were surprised by this morning's events. Mr. Perkovic said Mr. Poplawski was opposed to "Zionist propaganda" and was fearful that his right to own weapons would be taken away but he wasn't a member of an organized group or militia.
"He always said that if someone tried to take his weapons away he would do what his forefathers told him to do and defend himself."
Another friend, Aaron Vire, 23, said he'd helped Mr. Poplawski and Mr. Perkovic with a radio show they'd broadcast on the Internet, discussing "politics, girls and life."
Mr. Poplawski had supported Republican candidate John McCain in the presidential election and had "very spirited debates" about Democratic candidate Barack Obama, Mr. Vire said. Mr. Poplawski was opposed to Mr. Obama's election, which he thought would result in the loss of his rights, Mr. Vire said.
"He wasn't a racist but thought some of his amendments were overlooked," Mr. Vire said. Even though Mr. Vire is black and Mr. Poplawski is white, the debates over President Obama did not hurt their friendship, he said.
Mr. Poplawski told him he bought his guns "because he felt the quality of life was being diminished," Mr. Vire said.
"He said he'll be ready if there's ever an invasion of the United States and that he had stockpiled foods and guns for that eventuality."
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.