Baltimore County police said that an officer arrived at a Dundalk apartment building one minute after a 911 operator received a call warning that a man believed to be Joseph C. Palczynski was at the front door and about to break in.
Within five minutes, four more officers were on the scene, said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. But they could not see Palczynski, who was standing in an interior hallway, and did not try to enter the building at 7520 Lange St.
Instead, they surrounded the building so no one could get in or get out, and police officials sent a tactical unit. Two officers were stationed behind the building and three were positioned in front of it.
"The officers don't just go rushing in; we would have had five dead cops," Toohey said yesterday. "They secure the area."
It was the night of March 17, and inside the apartment, the 31-year-old Palczynski had taken three hostages -- Lynn Whitehead, the mother of his former girlfriend Tracy Whitehead, Lynn Whitehead's boyfriend, Andy McCord, and their 12-year-old son, Bradley McCord.
Palczynski had been on the run since March 7, when police say he abducted Tracy Whitehead from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and killed the couple she was staying with and a neighbor who tried to help her.
Tracy Whitehead got away from Palczynski the next night, when police say he killed a passing motorist and wounded a child during an attempted carjacking.
The officers' prompt arrival at the Dundalk apartment contradicts statements by a 911 operator, who told Andy McCord more than seven minutes after Palczynski appeared at the front door that police were not yet on the scene, according to a tape of the conversation.
Police said yesterday that the operator had not been informed by a police dispatcher that officers had arrived in the Dundalk neighborhood.
"There was an officer in the immediate vicinity," Toohey said.
David McCord, brother of hostage Andy McCord, was the first person to call 911 the night of March 17 and alert police that Palczynski might be at the apartment.
According to a tape of that call, David McCord told the operator he had just spoken with his brother, who said someone was at the front door with a gun.
Minutes later, Andy McCord called 911 and said, "There is a guy with a gun. It might be Palczynski. Hurry up."
About four minutes into the conversation, Andy McCord asked, "Is the police there? Can you double-check for me?"
"I'm not showing them as being there," the operator said. "They haven't called out as being arrived yet."
Seconds later, Palczynski shot his way into the apartment. Slightly more than seven minutes had passed since David McCord called police. By that point, Toohey said, five officers were at the scene and the tactical unit was en route.
On the tape, Palczynski appeared agitated and made repeated demands to talk to Tracy Whitehead. He told police that her mother would be the first person shot if they tried to enter the apartment.
"I want to talk to Tracy right now or I'm going to start killing people," he told the operator.
Minutes later, he changed strategy and said, "If you can bring Tracy over here where I can talk to her face to face, I'll let these three, four people go."
He switched gears again: "If you don't let me talk to Tracy, I am going to get psychotic."
Four days later, Lynn Whitehead and Andy McCord escaped through a window. Police stormed the apartment, rescued Bradley McCord and fatally shot Palczynski.