Family tells of captivity and escape

Sun Reporter

Andy McCord, Lynn Whitehead, and their son, Bradley, were sitting down to aFriday-night dinner of Chinese takeout when they realized that someone was atthe front door.

"Brad got up to go to the bathroom. He walked by the front door -- and wehave a little piece of molding missing on the door -- and he could seethrough," McCord said yesterday. "He turned around to me real quick,quivering, and said, `Dad! Dad! There's somebody out there with a gun.'

"I was on the phone with my brother. I said, `Dave, call 911 real quick.He's out there. He's out there.' "

"He" was Joseph Palczynski. The accused killer quietly lurked outsideMcCord's Dundalk home for about five minutes before shooting his way acrossthe threshold -- launching an invasion that would make Andy McCord and hisloved ones prisoners in their home.

Yesterday, as McCord picked through the ruins of his apartment and talkedof finding a new place to live, the former hostages described the cruel gamesPalczynski played with his guns, and one final death threat that seemed alltoo real.

They talked about their captor's emotional highs, as when he gazed atfamily snapshots and reminisced about better times with Whitehead's daughter,Tracy. And they remembered his lows, when he became so depressed that hehanded the telephone to McCord -- allowing the captive to pass on vitalintelligence to police negotiators.

Finally, they described the escape plan that gained them freedom after 97hours. And they answered anyone who would question the decision to leave youngBrad behind and hope that police would be able to rescue him.

"I don't care what people say," Lynn Whitehead said. "We're all herealive."

Brad, a star pitcher for his youth baseball team, said yesterday that heslept through the moment when officers stormed into the apartment and fatallyshot Palczynski.

"I woke up," he said, "and all I saw was the SWAT team."

Their release ended nearly three weeks of tension. Yesterday, Andy McCorddescribed the family's reaction to the ordeal, starting March 4 when "Joby"Palczynski was charged with assaulting Whitehead's daughter, Tracy. He did notexpect the crime spree that followed.

"I just figured it was another breakup and they'd be back together," McCordsaid. "But this time, when she filed charges, behind his back she was gettingher own place. I never thought he would go to this extreme, but he was reallyobsessed with her."

"We figured he drove somewhere, some isolated area, killed her and killedhimself," McCord said.

The family's fears were justified.

According to Tracy, Palczynski walked her to a field, made her lie on herstomach and pressed a shotgun into the back of her neck.

"All I kept saying was, `Please, please, if you're going to kill me, let mecall my son up and tell him I love him and let me call my family and tell themI love them before you kill me,' " she said.

The next night, when Tracy broke free from Palczynski, family members mether at the White Marsh precinct. They took her to McCord's brother's home inEssex.

McCord said that while the rest of his family stayed at his brother's home,he lived alone on Lange Street.

"I was the only one in the house all week," he said. "I felt a little bitconcerned, but I kept the very front door locked, my door locked and the phoneright beside me."

The family returned to Lange Street the morning of March 16, he said. Apolice officer checked their home Friday morning, he said, but they saw nomore officers before Palczynski appeared on their doorstep that night.

McCord said that after he hung up with his brother he called 911. But theman outside "was just standing out there quietly. He must have heard me,finally, and he yelled, `Police. Open up.' Brad goes, `That's Joby.' "

As Palczynski began shooting, Lynn rushed into one bedroom, and McCord andBrad scurried into another. McCord and his son pushed a dresser against thedoor, and lay on the floor trying to hold it there.

Palczynski found Lynn and grabbed her around her neck. Trying to remaincalm, she softly said, "Joby, you got me."

McCord recalled, "He said, `Andy, would you like to come out now? I've gota gun to Lynn's head, and I'll blow her brains out.'

"He told Lynn, he says, `My intentions were to come in and kill you and[Tracy's sister] Laura to get back at Tracy." McCord said he believes that ifthey had not scurried from their living room before Palczynski stormed in,they would be dead.

For the next four days, they watched television and slept as much as theycould. And they contended with Palczynski's threats and his changing moods.

"He was up and down," McCord said. "One day he was going to kill himself.One day he wanted me to kill him.

"He would be up, like [when] we would show him pictures of him and Tracy,"he said. "And then, every once in a while, he'd go, `I'll never be able tohold my Tracy again.'

"A couple of times he'd look like he was ready to go off. He was talking tothe negotiators, he'd say, `I can kill everybody in here.' "

When depressed he sometimes handed the phone to his hostages. McCord, whosells plumbing supplies, answered the negotiator's questions -- Is he reallybuilding a pipe bomb? Do you keep PVC pipe at home -- with a simple "no."

The one shot fired inside the apartment apparently was a charade, withPalczynski counting down for the negotiators on the phone, and then forcinghis hostages to scream while he shot into the floor.

Whitehead initially wanted negotiators to allow Palczynski to talk toTracy, McCord said, but he told her that granting the request could havedeadly consequences.

On Tuesday, Palczynski and Lynn disappeared into a bedroom, where he issuedhis final threat. It was then that Lynn came up with the plan to spike hisdrink with Xanax and escape as Palczynski slept. McCord followed, afraid thatwaking his son would wake Palczynski. He gambled that police would get therefirst.

"The only thing that went bad was she went out and 10 minutes went by and Ihad to make a decision," McCord said. "That phone could have rang. I didn'tknow if the negotiators were going to call and wake him up. If he saw me andBrad just by ourselves, he would have blew us away."

Whitehead said yesterday that she remains jittery. Though free, she jumpedupon hearing a clicking sound Wednesday night. "It sounded like him clickingthe gun," she said.

For Whitehead and her family, yesterday was a day to try to move past thehostage ordeal. It was a day for McCord to return to the 7500 block of LangeSt. and take stock of what was left. Tracy did the same at the BowleysQuarters apartment she once shared with Palczynski.

"I've just got a lot of things to work out right now," Tracy said.

Andy McCord's brother, David McCord, said, "We're just so glad they'realive. It's unbelievable. I felt sure he'd kill them, seeing that Tracy gotaway and made him look bad."

"We've got to regroup," Andy McCord said. "Everything's destroyed in thehouse. We've got to find another place to live."

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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