Officials: Too soon to say if charges will be filed in firefighter death

Officials: Too soon to say if charges will be filed in firefighter death
Kevin Swain, Sykesville firefighter, in a photo courtesy the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department.

Authorities said Monday that it's too soon to say whether charges will be filed against a man who fatally shot one firefighter and injured another who were attempting to enter his home to check on his health.

Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George's County state's attorney, said Monday that investigators need to access "what's reasonable given what his belief was about whether danger existed or not."


Firefighter John Ulmschneider was killed Friday when firefighters went to a Temple Hills home after the brother of the man who lived there told authorities he was concerned about the man. When firefighters arrived, the person inside was unresponsive, so they decided to force entry, officials said. As that was happening, the person inside fired several rounds.

Another firefighter, 19-year-old volunteer firefighter Kevin Swain, of Sykesville, was also shot but is expected to survive.

Swain grew up in Sykesville and has been involved with the fire company since he was a young teen with the junior firefighter unit. He serves as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Sykesville company and a live-in paramedic student at the Morningside Volunteer Fire Company in Prince George's County.

The brother of the man who lived at the home was also shot but not seriously injured.

Alsobrooks said it's an active investigation, and prosecutors "will likely present this case to a grand jury." Asked if charges were expected, Alsobrooks said: "We don't know yet. Again, it's so early."

Alsobrooks spoke Monday at a news conference with Marc Bashoor, the county's fire chief, and Hank Stawinski, the county police chief. Stawinski said the man who fired the shots has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

Stawinski said investigators have not been able to interview the shooter's brother or Swain.

"It's not that we have facts that didn't lead us to it," Stawinski said, when asked about potential charges. "It's an absence of facts that would get us to where we're confident in placing that charge."

He also said forensic evidence such as the position of a door and number of shots fired were still being gathered.

"When we have the facts, we'll make the decision based on those facts, and again we want the process to play out," Stawinski said.

Stawinski said firefighters "took every opportunity to make their presence known, based on what I have so far."

Bashoor said that after Ulmschneider's funeral, which is scheduled for Wednesday, the department will examine procedures "that more clearly identifies what our folks should do during welfare checks that doesn't exist today," noting that the department currently has protocols in place.

In an update posted to the Sykesville Freedom Volunteer Fire Company's web page Monday, spokesman Bill Rehkopf wrote that Swain was continuing his recovery at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore following emergency surgery Friday night for the four gunshot wounds he suffered in the incident.

Rehkopf wrote Swain was showing slow improvement and was visited by Sykesville firefighters on Sunday at the hospital.


"All reports are that he was happy to see his firefighting brothers and sisters from his hometown," Rehkopf wrote. "Kevin and his family are grateful for the prayers and support of the community at large. … He remains in good spirits and is looking forward to his recovery and 'getting back on the engine.' "

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said she and other legislators were at the Shock Trauma Gala on Saturday night when Gov. Larry Hogan announced he had just visited with Swain and he was recovering.

"This incident is a reminder of the willingness of our first responders to put themselves in harm's way every day to keep us safe," Krebs wrote in an email to the Carroll County Times. "My prayers go out to Kevin and his family and his colleague's family who did not have the same outcome."

Carroll County Times staff contributed to this article.