Man dies in 17-hour Groton standoff

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Groton — A 17-hour standoff between police and a man barricaded inside the home at 8 Orion Ave. ended Wednesday afternoon when police determined the man had died.

Police, who haven’t identified the man, said the New London State’s Attorney’s Office and the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are determining his cause of death. Police entered the home about 12:05 p.m. Wednesday after they used unspecified tools to determine it was safe to do so, state police Trooper 1st Class Tanya Compagnone said.

Town police Chief L.J. Fusaro said it’s not clear when the man died.

Fusaro said the standoff began about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, when the man’s wife said he had fired his handgun. Fusaro said police helped the woman and two young children escape the residence and evacuated some nearby homes for safety reasons. Military personnel who lived near the residence were granted administrative leave during the standoff.

Several area departments responded to the scene, which police quickly indicated could be active for a long time. A state police tactical unit took the lead, attempting to contact the man overnight by cellphone, home phone and text message to no avail.

Police, who also were using a megaphone to communicate with the man, referred to him as James, a video provided by a neighbor showed. Officials had not released the man's full name as of print deadline Wednesday.

Nikole Phillips, who said she has lived in the complex for about five years with her husband, who works for the submarine base, said she knew of some families who had to stay in hotels overnight because police had blocked off the complex.

Staff with the Navy Lodge said at least three families stayed there Tuesday because they couldn’t access their homes.

Phillips said she kept her children home from school Wednesday to obey a lockdown police had ordered. Police lifted the lockdown about 12:30 p.m., at which point residents, including Phillips, could be seen walking their dogs.

Michael Kornacki, a neighbor, said the man was a former U.S. Marine and "a great, great man." The man's wife is an active-duty officer with the Navy and works for the Naval Ambulatory Care Center, Kornacki said. The couple had been living in Groton for "a couple years" and had Florida license plates, he said. Kornacki said he did not know what the man did while serving in the Marine Corps or whether he had been stationed overseas. He said he did not know where they were from before they came to Groton.

"He is a great dad. He is a good guy," Kornacki said, tearing up in front of his house late Wednesday afternoon. "He was playing with his kids nonstop. He loved his wife, loved his kids. Everything. He was just a phenomenal guy. He always shoveled our driveway." 

Kornacki said that at the start of the incident Tuesday night, he sat with the man's wife in his black pickup truck until police took her. Kornacki's wife was taking care of the man's two young children in a neighboring home throughout the night.

Kornacki said the family was being treated at the Naval Submarine Base and was in care of their commanding officer.

"I didn't see it coming, nope. I didn't see any warning signs," Kornacki said.

Several other neighbors on Orion Avenue, who declined to be identified, said the family did not socialize much and kept to themselves.

Neighbors who were not evacuated overnight said they heard what they believed were gunshots fired about 11:30 p.m. They said police also used sirens, megaphones, smoke bombs and flash-bang grenades, which typically are used to disorient targets, throughout the night in an effort to draw the man from the home.

Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer of sub base, said by email Wednesday, "We are saddened by this tragic event and its impact on our Navy and local community. First and foremost, we appreciate the rapid and professional response of local, state, and area law enforcement, first responders, and supporting agencies to the Dolphin Gardens, BBC PPV housing area."

"Their dedication to the safety of area residents and the resolution of a volatile situation was clearly evident. We are blessed by the sense of neighborliness and community our Navy families and team members have always felt and continue to feel," Whitescarver said.

Chris Zendan, sub base spokesman, said the base helped families in different ways while the incident continued. Officials, for example, worked with law enforcement to help a sailor get onto a submarine that was headed out to sea, he said. They also were prepared to help a woman who needed medication, but she got it through other means.

Officials closed the Child Development Center Wednesday because of the police lockdown and said anyone who paid for services there will be reimbursed. The center will be open Thursday, Zendan said.

Fusaro acknowledged the complex is known as “Navy housing” but wouldn’t say whether the man who died was affiliated with the Navy. He said civilians and members of other branches also live there.

Law enforcement personnel dressed head to toe in white or yellow suits were walking in and out of the Orion Avenue home about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Many windows in the two-story, brown home were partially or fully shattered.

Fusaro wouldn’t say whether the man ever fired at police. He said no officers were hurt during the incident.

The FBI, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and Rhode Island and Massachusetts state police also assisted.

Day Staff Writer Julia Bergman contributed to this report.


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