Heroes – 3
Our last story in this series from neighbor Ken Fischer involves having coffee, but not the congenial visiting kind. More like the hunkered-down-for-a-long-tense-wait kind. Tense and dangerous, with lives at stake. It would take an audacious move, a heroic move, to protect the innocent.
By Ken Fischer
From 1980 to 1985, I was a member of the Lakewood SWAT team. Among the most critical and sad calls we covered was a barricaded gunman just inside Edgewater. This was beyond their capability as they had no SWAT team. We deployed at about eleven o’clock PM to a three-story apartment building.
In a top floor corner apartment a crazed man was holding his two young daughters after shooting and killing his wife in their presence. This action was the end point in a bitter custody dispute.
Upon our arrival, we were briefed and my reflection was that this operation had a whole lot of negative elements and it was getting worse. We could not evacuate the two bordering apartments and there was access to them via ceiling crawl space. In addition, the suspect had a 270 degree vision with window access to a kill zone. He could pick off any desired target. We would have to close off blocks to his north and east. Manpower would be stressed. Troops would be held over and possibly more would be called in. This would be a long siege. It would take a whole lotta coffee….
It was at this point, as assignments were being made, that the commander was informed of a highly irregular occurrence which gave us a huge break.
One of the first responding agents to back the two (and only) Edgewater officers was Agent Tom Ritchie. Tom held immense respect among his peers as a “people person,” who continually defused hot situations, treated all with respect, and was firm in his religious faith. Tom was a giant of a man with a slow methodical manner. This served him well as a juvenile detective, DARE officer and a variety of coaching and teaching assignments. He was rarely flustered and he maintained his “country” personality through all his assignments.
This one would test him to the max.
Without direction and after a breathless briefing by Edgewater units, on his own, Tom broke perimeter and went to the suspect’s door. He knocked and announced himself. After a brief face to face exchange, Tom convinced the suspect to release his daughters.
Most of us would term this suicidal. It was way beyond any tactical consideration. Negotiators would be in awe over this approach and this policy/procedure violation could result in severe discipline up to and including termination. To our amazement, he got it done prior to SWAT or supervisor arrival.
In the process, the children had to step over their mother’s body which lay in the entryway.
The call ran through the night. Wild mood swings resulted in shots fired at us down the hallway. This coupled with pathetic weeping to negotiators. At daybreak, fatigue or remorse impelled him to give up.
The arrest was textbook. As we moved him to a waiting squad car, a woman approached asking about her sister inside (the second victim of this tragedy). She did not know. One of the detectives directed her to an area better suited for hearing really bad news.
You try to never be surprised in this work. Many times folks say, ”you’ve seen it all.” In truth, you never see it all and this ending had a terrible twist. As the suspect was being put in the transport vehicle, he calmly advised that we should respond to a south Jeffco apartment. He gave the address as if he were reading a label. There we would find another deceased woman – his girlfriend. He had shot her earlier prior to returning home to Edgewater.
Tom Ritchie never got a medal but only tacit acknowledgement for his effort that night. This action was exceptional, but that fit right in with this man who served and protected those less fortunate. Of course it could not be encouraged or repeated under policy, but I can say for myself and his legion of partners —
Well Done Agent.
Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business.