Moments of sleep, and crisis is ended

Police take advantage of 97-hour siege's toll

March 22, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang and Lynn Anderson | Dan Thanh Dang and Lynn Anderson,Sun Staff

In the end, sleep deprivation ended Joseph C. Palczynski's 97-hour hostage marathon in Dundalk.

Taking advantage of Palczynski's need for sleep, hostage Lynnn Whitehead made a run for it out a front bedroom window as her captor slept on a living room sofa with a gun in his lap, police said. About 20 minutes later, her boyfriend, Andy McCord, followed her lead as police swarmed the Lange Street rowhouse.

The escapes surprised Baltimore County police, who had not had contact with Palczynski since a 9:45 p.m. phone conversation. The county's police chief and command staff were in a meeting, preparing for the 11 p.m. shift change.

Then the break occurred as "word came out that there was a hostage coming out a window," said police spokeswoman Vickie Warehime.

Whitehead had jumped from a bedroom window and run along the side of the building into the arms of waiting officers.

"She's jumped out," yelled a woman, one of many neighbors who had followed the siege and communicated on walkie-talkies.

As officers spoke to Whitehead, Andy McCord jumped out the window 20 minutes later. Both told police that their son, Bradley McCord, was sleeping on the kitchen floor in the back of the apartment, Warehime said. They said Palczynski had weapons nearby.

Warehime said Palczynski was lying on a sofa with a gun in his lap when two tactical officers climbed a ladder to the living room window and broke the glass. Four officers followed them in.

"The rattle of the glass woke him up," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Palczynski sat up, but before he could get his bearings, two officers shot him, police said. Bradley McCord was corted to safety.

As paramedics and ambulances rushed from every direction, residents asked: "Is he dead, is he dead?" over their walkie-talkies.

State police paramedics tried to resuscitate Palczynski, but he was declared dead at 11:05 p.m.

Whitehead's escape marked the beginning of the end to Palczynski's bloody rampage, which started March 7 in Bowleys Quarters when police said he abducted his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, who is Lynn's daughter.

During the four-day siege, police said they had few details on the condition of the hostages. Negotiators relied heavily on Palczynksi's accounts of the situation, police said, as officers had no way to verify information about the family.

"This whole episode has been one unpredictable event after another," Toohey said. "Every third day we had some new twist."

David White of the 7600 block of Berkshire Road, across the street from where the hostages were held, said he saw Lynn Whitehead and Bradley McCord at a ground-floor window of the house on Monday. Apparently prompted by Palczynski, they shouted his demand that he be allowed to talk with Tracy Whitehead.

Police complied with Palczynski's demands for food, but he was never allowed contact with Tracy Whitehead. As the siege dragged on, he was allowed to take short naps.

Police said the hostages had been tied up for brief periods, but were allowed to walk around the house, even to cook their meals.

Palczynski often talked to the hostages, and never threatened to kill them, sources said, but he did use them as shields when he came to the window.

When tactical officers swarmed the house, windows were broken and the front door Palczynski nailed shut was blasted open by police, neighbors said.

"We can all breathe a sigh of relief," a woman said when it was over.

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