SUN IN­VES­TI­GATES 6 min­utes passed be­fore po­lice found shooter

Of­fi­cers face hard choice to stop sus­pect, aid in­jured like in Cap­i­tal Gazette as­sault

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By McKenna Ox­en­den

As pros­e­cu­tors spent Mon­day re­count­ing the ex­cru­ci­at­ing time­line of a shooter’s deadly as­sault on the Cap­i­tal Gazette and its em­ploy­ees, a sur­pris­ing new detail emerged. Po­lice spent six min­utes in the of­fices be­fore en­coun­ter­ing the gun­man.

Of­fi­cers who rushed into the build­ing didn’t ini­tially see the shooter while help­ing sur­vivors es­cape, treat­ing a dy­ing vic­tim and ob­serv­ing the scene of car­nage. Six min­utes passed be­fore they found and se­cured the man who gunned down Ger­ald Fis­chman, Rob Hi­aasen, John McNamara, Re­becca Smith and Wendi Win­ters, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment of facts read in Anne

Arun­del Cir­cuit Court.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, the ad­mit­ted killer Jar­rod Ramos hid un­der a pho­tog­ra­pher’s desk, county State’s At­tor­ney Anne Colt Leitess said in open court. Of­fi­cers ar­rested Ramos af­ter he called out: “I sur­ren­der, I sur­ren­der. I’m your shooter.”

Six min­utes may seem like a long time for the shooter to go un­no­ticed. But it’s not sur­pris­ing to ex­perts in ac­tive shoot­ing sit­u­a­tions, who said re­sponses hinge on sev­eral vari­ables.

“It is a very com­plex sit­u­a­tion,” re­tired po­lice cap­tain Ash­ley Heiberger said. “These ac­tive threat sit­u­a­tions have so many things go­ing on at once, with so many com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties.”

Heiberger, who re­tired from the Beth­le­hem (Penn­syl­va­nia) Po­lice Depart­ment af­ter 21 years, said if of­fi­cers con­tinue to hear gun­shots when en­ter­ing a build­ing, they will pass by vic­tims and work to con­front the shooter. But if there is no au­di­ble threat, the for­mer of­fi­cer said it be­comes more com­pli­cated.

The de­tails about the 19-minute ram­page and chaotic af­ter­math sur­faced when Ramos, 39, pleaded guilty to all 23 counts he was charged with in­clud­ing five counts of mur­der. In­for­ma­tion will con­tinue to be re­leased in the com­ing weeks af­ter a sep­a­rate trial is held to de­ter­mine whether Ramos is deemed crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble.

He pleaded not crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble, which is Mary­land’s ver­sion of the in­san­ity defense.

Anne Arun­del County sher­iff’s deputies and of­fi­cers from the Anne Arun­del County and An­napo­lis po­lice de­part­ments con­verged on the scene within 90 sec­onds of the 911 call.

In a study of 84 ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tions since 2000, the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum out­lined the dif­fi­cult choices of­fi­cers face when ar­riv­ing at an ac­tive scene.

“So you can imag­ine how long it may take to do a sys­tem­atic search if you’re in a large of­fice build­ing or a shop­ping mall. It may take hours, and what’s hap­pen­ing dur­ing that time? Peo­ple who have been shot and wounded are bleed­ing out and dy­ing,” wrote PERF, a non­profit think tank, in its re­port. “So it falls upon our first re­spon­ders who are in­side the scene, the law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, to pro­vide im­me­di­ate life­sav­ing care to peo­ple.”

Heiberger said the re­sponse to an ac­tive threat can be made even more dif­fi­cult when sev­eral dif­fer­ent agen­cies re­spond. For ex­am­ple, each one might have their own pro­to­col, he said.

Both the county sher­iff’s of­fice and po­lice de­clined to com­ment specif­i­cally about the shoot­ing, cit­ing the pend­ing trial, or to dis­cuss broader depart­ment pro­to­cols about ac­tive threats.

“There’s no easy an­swer,” Heiberger said. “These are very, very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions for polic­ing as a pro­fes­sion.”

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