911 tapes depict standoff opening

Calls record fear, panic in first minutes of Palczynski crisis

April 19, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

The first moments of a four-day standoff between Joseph C. Palczynski and Baltimore County police were marked by death threats, a gunshot and desperate pleas from the hostages he had taken, according to police 911 tapes obtained by The Sun.

Palczynski waited at least seven minutes at the front door of the Dundalk apartment the night of March 17 before shooting his way inside. During much of that time, two of the hostages were on the phone with police.

Once inside, the tapes show, Palczynski did not know how many hostages he had. Nor could he decide how to persuade police to comply with his demand that he be allowed to talk to his ex-girlfriend Tracy Whitehead.

"I want to talk to Tracy right now or I'm going to start killing people," he tells the police dispatcher. Moments later, Palczynski says: "If you can bring Tracy over here where I can talk to her face to face, I'll let these three, four people go."

The tapes, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show Palczynski to be agitated. He frequently changes subjects, explains his every move to police, and issues one threat after another.

"I've got Lynn," Whitehead, Tracy's mother, he says. "If anyone comes in she gets shot first."

Police say Palczynski began a two-week rampage the night of March 7, when he dragged Tracy Whitehead from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and fatally shot the couple with whom she was staying. Minutes later, police say, Palczynski killed a neighbor who tried to help Whitehead, and the next night shot and killed a woman during an attempted carjacking.

He was on the run for 10 days before shooting his way into the apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St. There he took three hostages -- Lynn Whitehead, her boyfriend, Andy McCord, and their 12-year-old son, Bradley McCord.

The night of March 21, Lynn Whitehead and McCord escaped from the apartment and police stormed the building, killing Palczynski and rescuing Bradley McCord.

Police are conducting an investigation into the handling of the standoff and Palczynski's shooting. A deputy state's attorney has said a preliminary review of the evidence indicates the officers who killed him were acting within legal guidelines.

The March 17 tape begins with a call from David McCord. He tells police that he has spoken to his brother, Andy, who thinks that someone is at the front door of his apartment with a gun.

Minutes later, Andy McCord calls the police dispatcher, and frantically says: "Please get cops at 7520 Lange St. There is a guy with a gun. It might be Palczynski. Hurry up."

He says that someone in the house saw a gun through a crack in the door. David McCord said yesterday in a telephone interview that it was Bradley McCord who looked through the crack and saw the barrel of a gun.

Andy McCord is repeatedly asked by the dispatcher if he can identify the person outside the door. McCord says he cannot.

"I'm in the bedroom with the light out," he tells the dispatcher. "If I keep the light on, he might shoot through the bedroom window."

McCord is on the phone for about 5 1/2 minutes when he tells the dispatcher someone at the door is identifying himself as a police officer. Have police arrived? he asks. No, he is told.

At that point, panic ensues.

"Hurry up," McCord says, "they're breaking up my door."

A shot is heard in the background, then a woman screams. "Somebody's shot a shot there," says the dispatcher. "Shots fired."

It has been seven minutes, 18 seconds since David McCord called police. Palczynski is inside the apartment.

"He's shooting," McCord says. "Hurry up."

The telephone line goes dead. Then another call to police. A subdued Lynn Whitehead is on the line, telling the police dispatcher that Palczynski "has me at gunpoint. He wants to talk to my daughter and he is going to hurt me."

Whitehead hands the phone to her captor.

"Hi, this is Joseph Palczynski. I've got Miss Lynn [in] my arms at the front door. If anyone comes in, she gets shot first."

More silence. Four-and-a-half minutes later, Palczynski is back on the phone. "If you don't let me talk to Tracy I am going to get psychotic." Speaking to the youngest hostage, he then says: "Don't cry, Brad."

Palczynski taunts police about their failure to catch him.

"You guys are some sorry [expletive], man," he says. "Two hundred men against one. "

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