Vietnam veteran holds off police for three hours


A man who police said was a disabled combat veteran from the Vietnam War today held off police for more than three hours from inside his home.

The man's wife and three young children escaped unharmed, although at least one shotgun round was fired inside the house in the 4600 block of Moravia Road in northeast Baltimore, police said.

Dennis Alvez, 43, surrendered to city police negotiators and SWAT officers at 4:10 a.m. The surrender was peaceful until officers attempted to place handcuffs on him; then several policemen were needed to subdue the burly ex-Green Beret.

According to Maj. Regis Raffensberger, commander of the tactical section, "the situation was very bizarre. The suspect had in his back yard a mock-up of a Viet Cong village complete with a command bunker, field hospital, connecting tunnels and sniper nests in the trees."

Seven geese served as sentries at the camp, police said. Geese are used by the military as early-warning devices at some installations and are considered by some to be more reliable than guard dogs.

Raffensberger said a police search following the incident turned up seven weapons in Alvez's home, including two shotguns, two semiautomatic .22-caliber rifles and several handguns.

According to Sgt. Roy Stevens of the Northeastern District, police were alerted about 12:20 a.m. through the 911 emergency system that disorderly people [Alvez and his wife] were fighting in Alvez's house, in front of which usually fly an American flag and a gray-and-black POW flag.

"We found out that the subject had been drinking and that he was under a doctor's care and taking medication," Stevens said.

The man's children, reported to be about 7, 8 and 9, and wife escaped from the house but Alvez remained barricaded inside. Police had reports that the man had several weapons and explosives in his house. No explosives were found in the later search.

The department's Quick Response Team and hostage negotiators were summoned and cordoned off the house while sharpshooters and other officers ringed the building.

"What we were tremendously concerned with was the village in the back of his house," Raffensberger said. "We didn't know if this guy had set out booby traps, trip wires, whatever."

Explosives-sniffing dogs were also brought in and searched the village, Raffensberger said.

Lt. Samuel Tress, a police negotiator, said he communicated with Alvez over the telephone and that Alvez "was lucid; we were sure he was not flashing back to Vietnam."

According to Tress, Alvez was "extremely depressed" about having been diagnosed with cancer and facing upcoming surgery.

In conversations with Alvez, Tress said, the man told him he was 100 percent disabled from service in Vietnam. "He said that he was in the Army Special Forces, that he was a prisoner of war for 17 days, and his wife said that he was a captain."

Another police source said Alvez received a monthly disability compensation of $1,500 from the Veterans Administration.

After being arrested, Alvez was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he received emergency care and was being evaluated. He was not criminally charged, police said.

Police said records show Alvez had at least two earlier confrontations with authorities and had been arrested.

A woman who lives next door to the Alvez home said the veteran and several of his friends constructed the village several years ago. "The camp was kind of amazing," she said.

"He [Alvez] was a kind-hearted guy, really," said the woman, asking not to be publicly identified. "He would cut my grass. He wouldn't ask me, just do it. And he wouldn't expect any money although I always tried to give him some.

"It just seemed like he couldn't leave Vietnam behind," said the woman. "He would always fly the flags on the pole in front of his house. He built that village in back of his house. He seemed to never live that place down."

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