Shot fired in hostage apartment

Sun Reporters

The tense stalemate between police and Joseph C. Palczynski, the suspect infour killings, ground through its fourth day in Dundalk yesterday as officialswrestled with their newest worry -- the gunshot fired in the apartment wherethe 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 thefugitive'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 Palczynskisince Friday by telephone, and occasionally by bullhorn.

Palczynski, 31, would not allow an ambulance crew into the apartment in the7500 block of Lange St., but Toohey said, "As far as we know, there's been noneed to use that medic unit."

One fact was clear last night: While most residents of the easternBaltimore County neighborhood had been escorted to safety in armored vehiclesSunday night, authorities still could not estimate when the standoff would endand when the safety of the hostages could be determined.

Police also said yesterday that members of the Whitehead family rejectedoffers to be guarded by police at their home, countering other family members'claims that they had asked for protection Thursday, the day before Palczynskistormed 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; herstepfather, Andy McCord; and her 12-year-old brother, Bradley McCord.

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

Late last night, after police cleared spectators from the command centernear the scene, a handful of people pretended to be reporters and beganshouting 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 about30 people from their homes. Some walked out, others were taken in an armoredvehicle.

To some, the ordeal has grown frustrating.

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

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

At one point yesterday, Toohey said of that shooting, "We don't have a realclear 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 hadreinitiated negotiations just before the shot was fired about 3 p.m. -- afternearly six hours of silence.

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

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

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

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

On four other occasions yesterday, police said the fugitive fired bursts ofshots out the apartment window and, in one volley, flattened a tire on apolice 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 heallegedly abducted Tracy Whitehead. Friends said their relationship had beenstormy.

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 & CountryBowleys Quarters Apartments, he fatally shot the Shenks and David M. Meyers, aneighbor 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 andstole two guns and cash from a house. They believe he forced a man at gunpointto drive him back to eastern Baltimore County.

After eluding a massive manhunt through woods and marshes, Palczynskireappeared Friday night, police said, when he shot at the rowhouse in the 7500block of Lange St. and took the three hostages while armed with two "longguns," a .22-caliber pistol and perhaps another handgun.

Police insisted yesterday that they offered adequate protection to thefamily eventually grabbed by Palczynski as hostages, even though a relativesaid Tracy Whitehead's family had asked for police protection the day beforethe suspect allegedly took over the Dundalk apartment.

"We offered security inside and outside that property and were turned down"by the family, said Toohey. "I'm confident we did a responsible job watchingthat house."

Police said the Whitehead family had been taken to a "secure location" theday after Tracy Whitehead escaped from Palczynski at a Pulaski Highway motel,the El-Rich. Toohey would not describe the location or protective measuresused by police, but he said "they were in no harm and in no danger, in fact, aweek went by without any threat to them."

Then, he said, on Thursday family members said they wanted to move back totheir home. "Authorities told them that was a very bad idea. But they movedback in against police advice," Toohey said.

According to the spokesman, police wanted to station at least one officerinside the Whitehead home, with others outside.

Instead, Toohey said, the police and family agreed on "selectiveenforcement" -- police patrolling the street in front of their house. He saida patrol car apparently passed the house about three hours before Palczynski'sarrival.

Asked whether police could have guarded the outside of the house to preventPalczynski's attack, Toohey said, "From a practical point of view, one officerstanding outside or sitting outside isn't likely to have stopped somethinglike this. You would have needed to totally secure the house with peopleinside and outside. People inside is the key issue here."

In all, police estimated 20 sites were considered potential targets forPalczynski after he returned from Virginia. Toohey said the Dundalk apartmentwas not considered one of the fugitive's "priority targets."

Yesterday, Palczynski fired his weapons several times, beginning about12:45 p.m., when he squeezed off about four rounds.

He fired a rapid volley several minutes later and again about 1:20 p.m.Police and neighbors heard the single shot fired inside the house about 3p.m., and he shot out the armored vehicle's tire about 3:35 p.m. when anofficer with a bullhorn tried to bring in the ambulance.

Sun staff writers Nancy A. Youssef and Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

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