According to a complaint filed more than a year before his standoff with Harford County Sheriff’s deputies, Benjamin Murdy said he would shoot police if they were called out to a domestic dispute with his wife.
Now, he stands accused of following through after a roughly 90-minute standoff with police in Street that left one man injured and a dog dead, according to charging documents filed in Harford County District Court.
On Tuesday night, Murdy holed up in his house in the 4500 block of Oak Ridge Drive and allegedly fired nearly 200 rounds from a rifle and a pistol at deputies who were responding to an animal cruelty call, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said.
Those rounds hit neighbor Robert Schell, 59, twice — once near his knee and once in the groin — and sent him to the hospital.
By Wednesday morning, he was back at home, sipping coffee in his warmly-decorated dining room and considering what comes next — sorting out health insurance for the strip of flesh the bullet scooped from his knee, thinking about car insurance for his bullet-riddled Chevy Silverado and wondering why he had been shot by a neighbor who never bothered anyone.
“We did not even know them,” Schell’s wife, Donna said. “I could have been a widow last night.”
Murdy is charged with attempted first- and attempted second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assaults, assaults in the first and second degrees, reckless endangerment and charges related to animal cruelty and destruction of property.
He is being held without bond at the Harford County Detention Center. A bail review hearing scheduled for Thursday in District Court was postponed until Friday afternoon, so that Murdy’s attorney could be present. It was unclear who is representing Murdy as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
'I screamed the second time’
Schell was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He normally works late on Tuesdays, but he had things to take care of and took off work Tuesday, he said.
That night, as Schell backed his blue truck down the driveway to put out trashcans on the street, he felt a “push” against his knee.
“I heard the gunshots, which were loud,” Schell said. “I work construction … so getting a little cut or something really does not bother me much, and it did not seem to bother me.”
He ran around to the front of his truck and checked his knee. He didn’t see blood, so he continued to pull a second trash can out of the back of his truck, which faced Murdy’s home.
“That’s when gunshots went off again and I got hit the second time,” he said. “I screamed the second time.”
The second shot hit him in the groin area, but shortly after feeling the hit, he saw a car coming down the road — a police cruiser.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to the Oak Ridge Drive address at approximately 7 p.m. on a report that Murdy had shot his girlfriend’s dog on the front porch, according to charging documents. Police confirmed Tuesday that the dog had died.
When a deputy arrived, Murdy shot at them from inside the address, court documents state. The responding deputy took cover behind his cruiser while Schell hid behind his truck. There Schell waited — he does not remember how long — until an armored SWAT vehicle pulled in front of him. A door opened and he was hustled inside, out of view of the shooter.
From there, Schell was taken to York Hospital in Pennsylvania by medics from the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company and treated for his injuries, he said. He was discharged from the hospital around midnight.
Firearms were legally owned
After the initial shots were fired, deputies had established a perimeter and warned the neighborhood to shelter in place with the lights off.
SWAT teams and crisis negotiators were called in to help. Then, a call came through to the county’s 911 center : Murdy wanted to come out.
“Just prior to 9 p.m., the suspect had a family member contact the Harford County Emergency Communications Center and advised he wanted to surrender,” charging documents state. “A short time later, the suspect, identified as Benjamin Thomas Murdy, exited the residence with a cell phone and surrendered.”
No deputies were injured and police did not discharge their weapons during the incident, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Gahler commended the deputies — and other officers from multiple neighboring jurisdictions who had responded — for not firing their weapons in a charged situation at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
He said that deadly force would have been “appropriate” in that instance, but officer’s forbearance led to getting an arrest.
"I’m beyond impressed with the bravery and professionalism by the deputies who responded,” Gahler said. "I am equally thankful and proud of those allied agencies.”
Detectives interviewed Murdy after his surrender. He admitted he shot the dog and fired at police, according to charging documents.
Asked why he shot at law enforcement, “Mr. Murdy stated that he was trying to kill them,” the documents state.
Gahler said that police had run into Murdy before and knew he owned guns.
Murdy legally owned those guns, despite having two domestic violence offences on his record, Gahler said. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, those subject to a protective order in Maryland become ineligible to own guns.
Murdy’s court documents indicate his were taken, but they were returned at some point in compliance with the law, according to court documents.
“He was in legal possession of both firearms,” the Gahler said. "They were removed from the house but in accordance with the process that exists, they were returned.”
2018 protective order
Murdy’s wife went to court to get a protective order twice. Her first request in 2016 was denied, but in October 2018, she was granted a year-long protection order, and Murdy had to give up his weapons.
In her petition, she alleged that Murdy had been been verbally humiliating and degrading her since an incident in 2004, where he yelled at her and shoved her onto a bed. She said the behavior escalated over the years, until the day in early 2018 when he said he would shoot police on his front lawn if they were called.
He also, she claims in the document, threatened to kill himself with a gun should the police be called, or “if we were to call for help."
The month before that, two peace orders were filed in Harford County District Court alleging Murdy had threatened a woman and her husband the day before his wife had written the three-page petition for a protection order.
But neighbors on Oak Ridge Drive said they saw no warning signs or red flags; either they did not know Murdy, or he did not seem the type to be involved in a police standoff.
Ryder Deacon, a neighbor who heard the gunshots through his basement window, said Murdy seemed reasonable when he met him.
“They were very normal,” he said.
Events like this, Deacon said, do not happen on the quiet street.
Even though Schell did not know Murdy, why he was shot or if he was targeted, he said the next step is simply to move on.
“Life is hard enough without stuff going on,” he said.
“You wanted to move,” before the shooting, he joked to his wife.