Shot fired in hostage apartment

Baltimore Co. police rely on fugitive's word that no one was hurt

Standoff drags into 4th day

Neighbors chafe as they remain prisoners in homes

Standoff In Dundalk

March 21, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson | Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson,Sun Staff

The tense stalemate between police and Joseph C. Palczynski, the suspect in four killings, ground through its fourth day in Dundalk yesterday as officials wrestled with their newest worry -- the gunshot fired in the apartment where the fugitive was holding three hostages.

After that shot -- one of 10 incidences of gunfire over the past two days, but the first inside the besieged brick rowhouse -- police relied on the fugitive's word about the hostages' welfare.

As of 1 a.m., the standoff continued as media and police huddled in a cold, steady rain.

"As far as we know, no one is seriously wounded or hurt," said Bill Toohey, spokesman for Baltimore County police, who have been in touch with Palczynski since Friday by telephone, and occasionally by bullhorn.

Palczynski, 31, would not allow an ambulance crew into the apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St., but Toohey said, "As far as we know, there's been no need to use that medic unit."

One fact was clear last night: While most residents of the eastern Baltimore County neighborhood had been escorted to safety in armored vehicles Sunday night, authorities still could not estimate when the standoff would end and when the safety of the hostages could be determined.

Police also said yesterday that members of the Whitehead family rejected offers to be guarded by police at their home, countering other family members' claims that they had asked for protection Thursday, the day before Palczynski stormed into the apartment and took the hostages.

Police could not determine yesterday the conditions of the hostages, believed to be Palczynski's ex-girlfriend's mother, Lynn Whitehead; her stepfather, Andy McCord; and her 12-year-old brother, Bradley McCord.

Meanwhile, nearby Berkshire Elementary School was to be closed today for the second consecutive day, and trauma specialists remained on standby at Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Late last night, after police cleared spectators from the command center near the scene, a handful of people pretended to be reporters and began shouting questions at a police briefing.

The ruse was soon discovered and the ersatz media dispersed.

On Sunday night and yesterday morning, police made 16 trips to escort about 30 people from their homes. Some walked out, others were taken in an armored vehicle.

To some, the ordeal has grown frustrating.

"We're sick and tired of being prisoners in our own home," said Bob Haffler, who lives with his wife and two small sons in the 900 block of Elton Ave., less than two blocks from the siege site.

Residents such as Haffler complained yesterday about the lack of information coming from police, noting as one example the shot fired inside the apartment.

At one point yesterday, Toohey said of that shooting, "We don't have a real clear fix on what's going on."

Toohey said information on the shot fired in the apartment is "filtered" through conversations between negotiators and Palczynski. The fugitive had reinitiated negotiations just before the shot was fired about 3 p.m. -- after nearly six hours of silence.

Officials said that apparently was the longest period of silence since the standoff began Friday. Police believe Palczynski might be sleeping at such times.

Before that, police had delivered an order of French toast and sausages by robot for Palczynski's breakfast about 9:30 a.m.

"There's something wrong here, the police getting their information from the guy who's shooting at them," Haffler said.

The shooting inside highlighted the on-again, off-again talks with police by the unpredictable Palczynski, who apparently has demanded that his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, be brought to the scene.

On four other occasions yesterday, police said the fugitive fired bursts of shots out the apartment window and, in one volley, flattened a tire on a police armored personnel carrier.

Police said no one was injured by those shots aimed outside the house.

Palczynski has been on the run, police said, since March 7 when he allegedly abducted Tracy Whitehead. Friends said their relationship had been stormy.

Whitehead was staying with 50-year-old Gloria Jean Shenk and her husband, George Shenk, 49, after her most recent split with Palczynski.

Police said that as Palczynski dragged Whitehead from the Town & Country Bowleys Quarters Apartments, he fatally shot the Shenks and David M. Meyers, a neighbor who tried to help. Whitehead later escaped.

Police also accuse Palczynski of shooting and killing Jennifer McDonel, 37, a passing motorist, during an attempted carjacking the next night.

Palczynski, police said, then traveled, probably by train, to Virginia and stole two guns and cash from a house. They believe he forced a man at gunpoint to drive him back to eastern Baltimore County.

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