Scattered shots, tense talks

Negotiations enter third day in Dundalk hostage standoff

'Patience' is watchword

Police lights shot out, armored car's tires flattened

no one hurt

March 20, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki and Kate Shatzkin | Joe Nawrozki and Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The standoff between Baltimore County police and Joseph C. Palczynski entered its third day last night, as the man suspected in four killings held three hostages in a Dundalk rowhouse, punctuating tense negotiations with crackles of gunfire.

Frustrated law enforcement officials could provide few details about the condition of the hostages, when they might be freed or when the working-class neighborhood would return to normal.

County police spokesman Bill Toohey said the strategy for police remained "patience, patience and more patience," as they and FBI special weapons and tactics officers -- trained in waiting out suspects and military-style operations -- were stationed near the Lange Street home where Palczynski has his hostages.

Rifle shots rang out shortly before 7 p.m. when Palczynski, still talking with police negotiators on the telephone, fired at high-intensity lights put up by police. He knocked out several, a police spokesman said.

Earlier in the day, Palczynski shot out the tires of a county armored personnel carrier and fired at police positions.

On Friday night, he shot at the house where he later began holding three occupants hostage, police said.

Police have not returned fire, and no one has been hit by the fugitive's gunfire, officials said.

Since March 7, when the manhunt for Palczynski began, police have said repeatedly that they hope to make an arrest peacefully.

Yesterday, residents cringed at the sound of gunfire, many behind locked doors.

Meanwhile, visitors stood out of range of Palczynski's weapons -- he is believed to have two rifles and a handgun -- and snapped pictures with their children riding their shoulders. About a dozen people came from Perry Hall to pray for the hostages, police and Palczynski.

The latest chapter began Friday when Palczynski -- wanted since March 7 in four killings and the abduction of his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead -- allegedly broke into a home in the 10,200 block of Bevans Lane near Holly Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

Police say Palczynski tied up Douglas Wilkinson, his wife and son. After talking with Wilkinson for nearly five hours, Palczynski stole two rifles, a handgun and the family's pickup truck, police say. He was believed already to be carrying a .22-caliber revolver stolen in Virginia.

He then drove to the Dundalk home of Whitehead's mother, Lynn; her boyfriend, Andy McCord; and their 12-year-old son, Bradley McCord.

Negotiations have continued since about 9: 30 p.m. Friday.

A neighborhood in fear

The violence and overwhelming presence of heavily armed police in the Dundalk neighborhood have forced many to flee their homes. Police prevented others from returning to the area, citing safety concerns.

"We were trying to get out of here since Friday," said Jennifer Forsythe, a Lange Street resident and mother of two small children, interviewed near the East View Fire Station yesterday. "Gunshots have been going off, the children crying."

An obviously upset Anna Day, another resident who lives in what the police called the "kill zone," also fled her home on Berkshire Road after the gunshots yesterday morning, after running out of baby formula for her 10-month-old son Brett.

"I needed formula, diapers," Day said. "I heard a lot of firing. You're sleeping on your floor, you can't even go into your kitchen."

As police mulled over their next moves last night, a police team rescued two baby-sitters who had been trapped inside their house at 7502 Lange St., eight houses away from where Palczynski was holed up.

Kristal Huffines and Amber Thompson, both 16, were placed in a county armored personnel carrier along with Syaria Shell, 5, shortly after gunfire faded down the street.

Police said the sitters were trapped inside the house because the child's mother, Melissa, 22, had hired them to watch her child late Friday afternoon while she attended a St. Patrick's Day celebration.

When it came time to return home, Mrs. Shell could not get past the police and into the area around the Lange Street house considered vulnerable to gunfire. The mother kept in constant telephone contact with the two teen-agers and her daughter until their rescue last night.

Said the youngster after being reunited with her mother: "It wasn't fun. But it was fun riding in the thing."

Endurance test

Officials, residents and police have marveled at Palczynski's endurance. He has eluded authorities for nearly two weeks, and for several days has been in constant touch with police over the phone.

Asked last night the last time the fugitive had slept, Toohey said: "At this point, we don't know for sure."

Toohey said negotiators are talking to Palczynski in shifts.

Experts warn that sleep deprivation can make a person increasingly irritable and that judgment fades with energy.

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