Accused killer Joseph C. Palczynski's two-week crime spree came to a violent end late last night when Baltimore County police SWAT team members shot him to death in the living room of a Dundalk rowhouse where he had been holding three hostages since Friday.

Two of the three hostages escaped out a window while Palczynski slept on a family room couch shortly before the SWAT team broke into the house. The third, a 12-year-old boy who was sleeping on the kitchen floor, was later led to safety by police.

The escapes "prompted us to go in or that boy was dead," said Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan.

No officers were injured.

The events ended a 97-hour standoff that began when Palczynski, 31, shot his way into the apartment. He had been on the run since March 7, when, police say, he abducted his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, and fatally shot the couple she was living with and a neighbor who tried to come to her aid.

A day later, he allegedly shot and killed a passing motorist in an attempted carjacking.

Lynn Whitehead, Tracy Whitehead's mother, jumped out the front window of the first-floor apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St. about 10:20 p.m. and her boyfriend, Andy McCord, followed about 20 minutes later. SWAT team members broke through a window and shot Palczynski, who had a gun on his lap under a blanket on the couch. They then escorted 12-year-old Bradley McCord -- Andy and Lynn's son -- out of the apartment.

"They have Joe. They have Joe," neighbors screamed shortly after the operation was over.

"I am here to report that we had a successful operation," Sheridan told a crowd of reporters at the command center in Dundalk as residents and police officers hugged each other. "Three hostages are safe because we had a successful operation."

Responding to angry criticism that police were slow to resolve the situation, Sheridan said, "Patience is what counted."

"Notwithstanding some of the criticism and the impatience, we had to stay focused," said County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "In my opinion, [Palczynski] felt he was the star of the show. He loved this. This was his show, this was his game.

"We're blessed. We're happy. And frankly, we're a little lucky."

Thankful family members praised God yesterday for answering their prayers over the ordeal.

"I had a feeling Lynn would do something," said Jean Jones, 47, who called her cousin "a fighter. She just probably had enough of it."

Jones rushed to the scene when she heard of the escape and ran to embrace her sister, Debbie Hands, 48, of Armistead Gardens, who said, "I thought he would kill them."

Lynn Whitehead's son, Bobby, 14, said: "We drove here as fast as we could. We are just so relieved."

Earlier yesterday, police had speculated about the condition of one of the hostages believed injured by a gunshot in the apartment Monday.

Last night, police said Palczynski said one of the hostages had been shot, but that proved to be false.

Neighbors had said that Palczynski had placed the younger McCord in front of an apartment window on more than one occasion. A source close to the investigation confirmed that people in the house had been used as shields.