Standoff ends in teen's suicide 18-year-old was upset about court summons

October 14, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A Pasadena teen-ager killed himself in his rented basement home yesterday, ending a 3 1/2 -hour standoff with police while 150 onlookers and his mother listened helplessly outside.

John Harold McElroy, 18, shot himself in the head just past 1 p.m. after police failed in repeated phone conversations to dissuade him from suicide, said police spokeswoman Carol Frye.

McElroy, who was on house arrest pending his trial on a burglary charge, called an unidentified officer at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center shortly after 9 a.m., upset about a court summons he had received in the mail, Frye said. McElroy mistook the summons for a new arrest warrant and told the officer he didn't want to go to jail, she said.

The officer called county police and told them McElroy sounded as if he was going to hurt himself. McElroy had told the officer he had hunting weapons in the house where he was staying, the officer said.

County police surrounded the house in the 100 block of Cottage Grove Drive where McElroy was locked inside, Frye said.

Neighbors and passers-by gathered and waited on the corner, kept away by a dozen officers in SWAT gear, some with weapons drawn.

McElroy's mother, girlfriend and aunt huddled across the street by a building from which police negotiators talked to McElroy by telephone.

The onlookers and some police officers seemed stunned when they heard the shot. The officers pointed their weapons at the house. Some neighbors, who had been watching anxiously since morning, left crying. Others didn't hear the shot because of a helicopter flying overhead, but word quickly spread.

"I thought it would end differently than this," Pasadena resident Chuck Stack said as he watched officers enter the house. "I mean, normally they just walk out of the front door, don't they?"

"When I heard a gun going off, I heard a woman's voice saying, 'Oh no, oh no,' " next-door neighbor Amy Hollowood said. "I was just hoping he wasn't hurt, that maybe the bullet hit a wall or something."

The last time most neighbors in the usually quiet community, built 15 years ago on the former site of an amusement park, had seen a police cruiser respond to a crime was when the community's boat dock was robbed last year.

Frye said neither she nor fellow officers could remember a time in Anne Arundel when on-site negotiations had not ended with the person threatening suicide agreeing to leave with officers.

"When it ends like this it is very upsetting for all the officers," Frye said. "Our job is to protect life, and to be negotiating with someone and have this happen is very rare."

McElroy's distraught mother was taken away by ambulance.

McElroy lived in the basement of the two-story, gray-shingle house where Jeremy Miller and his fiancee rent the top two floors. He and McElroy moved into the house in early September, neighbors said.

Miller said McElroy, who did construction work on a work-release program, was always polite and friendly, and that his mother and girlfriend often visited.

"I guess sometimes people just well, I guess I just don't know what," he said.

Police suspect that McElroy used one of Miller's guns.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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