Family tells of captivity and escape

McCord gives details of Palczynski's actions and victims' responses

March 24, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Andy McCord, Lynn Whitehead, and their son, Bradley, were sitting down to a Friday-night dinner of Chinese takeout when they realized that someone was at the front door.

"Brad got up to go to the bathroom. He walked by the front door -- and we have a little piece of molding missing on the door -- and he could see through," McCord said yesterday. "He turned around to me real quick, quivering, and said, `Dad! Dad! There's somebody out there with a gun.'

"I was on the phone with my brother. I said, `Dave, call 911 real quick. He's out there. He's out there.' "

"He" was Joseph Palczynski. The accused killer quietly lurked outside McCord's Dundalk home for about five minutes before shooting his way across the threshold -- launching an invasion that would make Andy McCord and his loved ones prisoners in their home.

Yesterday, as McCord picked through the ruins of his apartment and talked of finding a new place to live, the former hostages described the cruel games Palczynski played with his guns, and one final death threat that seemed all too real.

They talked about their captor's emotional highs, as when he gazed at family snapshots and reminisced about better times with Whitehead's daughter, Tracy. And they remembered his lows, when he became so depressed that he handed the telephone to McCord -- allowing the captive to pass on vital intelligence to police negotiators.

Finally, they described the escape plan that gained them freedom after 97 hours. And they answered anyone who would question the decision to leave young Brad behind and hope that police would be able to rescue him.

"I don't care what people say," Lynn Whitehead said. "We're all here alive."

Brad, a star pitcher for his youth baseball team, said yesterday that he slept through the moment when officers stormed into the apartment and fatally shot Palczynski.

"I woke up," he said, "and all I saw was the SWAT team."

Their release ended nearly three weeks of tension. Yesterday, Andy McCord described the family's reaction to the ordeal, starting March 4 when "Joby" Palczynski was charged with assaulting Whitehead's daughter, Tracy. He did not expect the crime spree that followed.

"I just figured it was another breakup and they'd be back together," McCord said. "But this time, when she filed charges, behind his back she was getting her own place. I never thought he would go to this extreme, but he was really obsessed with her."

"We figured he drove somewhere, some isolated area, killed her and killed himself," McCord said.

The family's fears were justified.

According to Tracy, Palczynski walked her to a field, made her lie on her stomach and pressed a shotgun into the back of her neck.

"All I kept saying was, `Please, please, if you're going to kill me, let me call my son up and tell him I love him and let me call my family and tell them I love them before you kill me,' " she said.

The next night, when Tracy broke free from Palczynski, family members met her at the White Marsh precinct. They took her to McCord's brother's home in Essex.

McCord said that while the rest of his family stayed at his brother's home, he lived alone on Lange Street.

"I was the only one in the house all week," he said. "I felt a little bit concerned, but I kept the very front door locked, my door locked and the phone right beside me."

The family returned to Lange Street the morning of March 16, he said. A police officer checked their home Friday morning, he said, but they saw no more officers before Palczynski appeared on their doorstep that night.

McCord said that after he hung up with his brother he called 911. But the man outside "was just standing out there quietly. He must have heard me, finally, and he yelled, `Police. Open up.' Brad goes, `That's Joby.' "

As Palczynski began shooting, Lynn rushed into one bedroom, and McCord and Brad scurried into another. McCord and his son pushed a dresser against the door, and lay on the floor trying to hold it there.

Palczynski found Lynn and grabbed her around her neck. Trying to remain calm, she softly said, "Joby, you got me."

McCord recalled, "He said, `Andy, would you like to come out now? I've got a gun to Lynn's head, and I'll blow her brains out.'

"He told Lynn, he says, `My intentions were to come in and kill you and [Tracy's sister] Laura to get back at Tracy." McCord said he believes that if they had not scurried from their living room before Palczynski stormed in, they would be dead.

For the next four days, they watched television and slept as much as they could. And they contended with Palczynski's threats and his changing moods.

"He was up and down," McCord said. "One day he was going to kill himself. One day he wanted me to kill him.

"He would be up, like [when] we would show him pictures of him and Tracy," he said. "And then, every once in a while, he'd go, `I'll never be able to hold my Tracy again.'

"A couple of times he'd look like he was ready to go off. He was talking to the negotiators, he'd say, `I can kill everybody in here.' "

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