LOCKPORT — In the end, it was over before it began.
In a phone call to 911 shortly before 5 p.m., a man — as of yet unnamed — told dispatch "on behalf of myself and my 82-year-old mother. I'd like to report a death."
Dispatch asked, "whose?"
"Mine," the man retorted.
Dispatch attempted to engage the man in conversation, but the man put the phone down and dispatch reportedly heard two bangs, assumed at the time — and later confirmed — to have been shots from a gun.
The phone call put police into action and dozens of officers from Niagara County Sheriff's Department, Lockport Police Departmant and the New York State Police assembled on the normally quiet Willow Street between Transit and Cottage streets. Shortly after 5 p.m., police cleared Altro Park, putting an early end to a family gathering that had just ensued. They also blockaded Willow at Transit and Cottage streets, shooing away pedestrians and clearing the homes on either side of the house where the distress call had come from — 250 Willow Street.
Police Chief Larry Eggert was on his way to a dinner with his wife when he got the call. Dinner would have to wait as Eggert joined the throng of law enforcement assembled near the city park. He was joined by even more police and a K-9 Unit from North Tonawanda.
The different units assembled at different points on the street, some at Cottage keeping onlookers clear from the scene, others at Transit, doing the same and waiting to be called in to assist. A Sheriff's Department tactical unit was at the ready right outside the two-story home and a team of paramedics waited closely by in case they were needed in an instant.
City hostage negotiator, Lt. Doug Haak, stood outside 250 Willow attempting to make contact with the gunman. But as many times as Haak dialed the phone, it went unanswered.
"He was never responsive at all," Eggert said. "We threw some robots in there and tried to talk to him that way. That didn't work."
As Haak tried his best to make contact, the rest of the officers prepared for the inevitable raid on the home. And they waited.
For five hours, in fact, relatively little happened aside from some tactical maneuvers, posturing from police and repeated attempts by Haak to engage the man inside the home. All the while, they continued to have no clue about the ongoings inside the home. Was the gunman waiting for them? Was he already dead? What of his mother, whom he had mentioned in the phone call to 911? The police had many more questions than answers.
But the police knew that they'd eventually get their answers.
Sheriff James Voutour said during the ordeal, "time is on our side."
Eggert concurred. "If he was in there shooting people, our patrol officers would have gone through the front door, but he wasn't doing that, so we could slow it down a bit."
They slowed it down a lot. Dinner time turned to evening. And evening turned to night. Eventually, however, with no reponse having come from the numerous attempts and conversation, police decided to try a different tact.
At approximately 10:10 p.m. onlookers could hear a series of "pops" from the vicinity of the home. About 10 "pops" in all, followed by silence. About 20 minutes later, another half-dozen-or-so "pops" could be heard.
Police Chief Eggert later explained that the first series of pops were CS gas — or tear gas — launched into the upper floor of the home. The second series of pops were CS gas shot into the lower floor.
"But that didn't work, so they sent a dog in," Eggert said. Eventually, officers would have to enter the house.
They did so at approximately 11 p.m.
"They went in to search for him and in another room on the first floor, they found an older woman in urgent need of care," Eggert said. "She was sitting in a chair she probably hadn't been out of in two weeks."
The woman, who police have not confirmed was the gunman's mother was conscious, but in bad health and covered in CS gas, which, despite its name is actually a powder.
Moving to the second floor, police found the gunman, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot, believed to have been inflicted while he was still on the phone with 911.
The woman was taken to the hospital for care while officers did a preliminary search of the home. A more thorough one was expected to be conducted overnight after the CS gas dissipated more.
So why such a heavy response to a suicide?
Eggert said it's because they couldn't be sure it was a suicide. What they were certain of is that it was a man who said he had a gun and a desire to harm himself.
As it turns out, Eggert said, "he was armed with more than one gun. ... And generally when they're armed with more than one gun, you have to make an assumption that it's either suicide by cop or ... a shootout."
"You have to hope for the best, but you have to plan for the worst," Eggert concluded.
The Lockport Police Department is expected to release more information today, including the name of the gunman and the woman who was taken from the home.