UPDATE: Police kill suspect in trooper’s slaying after 20-hour standoff [video]

Police this morning killed the man suspected of shooting a Delaware state trooper to death Wednesday, ending a nearly 20-hour standoff at a home in Middletown, authorities said.

The end to the siege at the Brick Mill Farm development came at 9:17 a.m., when the suspect emerged from the home “and engaged police,” then was shot to death by officers, state police said. The unidentified man was pronounced dead at 9:29 a.m.

The suspect is believed to be the same man who gunned down 32-year-old state police Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard at a Wawa store on Pulaski Highway in Bear about noon Wednesday, police said. Since about 2 p.m., he had been holed up inside a home in the 500 block of St. Michael Drive, barricading himself and periodically firing at officers from Special Operations Response and Conflict Management teams.

Police did not say if the man was armed or firing his weapon when he exited the house.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Overnight, officers had “explosively breached numerous windows” but did not enter the house. Officers also used an explosive device to breach the front door about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

Residents in the area remain unable to return to their homes. The Odessa Fire Company, located at 304 Main St. in Odessa, has opened its facility to temporarily house those displaced by the effort to get the man to surrender.

Schools in the Appoquinimink School District are open today, but district spokeswoman Lillian Miles issued a statement Thursday morning saying absences will be excused. “We understand that buses cannot reach all areas and that transportation may be difficult or impossible for some students,” Miles said.

Some people were seen entering the school Thursday morning, although none of them were children.

As the standoff was unfolding early Wednesday afternoon, the district placed schools on lockdown after being warned of a violent person in the area by Delaware State Police. 

Ballard was an an 8 1/2 year veteran of the force assigned to Troop 2 in Glasgow. Late Wednesday night, Gov . John Carney ordered flags flown at half staff until further notice.

Thaddeus Thomas, who lives near the Wawa in Bear, was one of the growing number of people who have created a makeshift memorial at the shooting scene. “I was overwhelmed by this incident. This officer was just doing his job trying to keep us safe,” Thomas said.

The Wawa remained closed Thursday morning. It was roped off by crime scene tape. A lone Wawa employee was at the parking lot, and a few employees were spotted inside. Two state troopers were positioned in a nearby area of the parking lot for that shopping center.

The trooper was shot multiple times about 12:10 p.m. after approaching two men in a suspicious vehicle, state police Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr. said shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday at Christiana Hospital. McQueen confirmed the trooper’s death while flanked by Carney and several other law enforcement officers during a brief, somber news conference at the hospital.

The trooper’s death had been widely reported since early Wednesday as the crime drew nationwide coverage. The Wicomico County (Md.) Sheriff’s Office, for example, had posted these condolences on Twitter about 1:45 p.m.: “Please pray for our @DEStatePolice family as they have just experienced an unimaginable loss of one of their finest.”

McQueen said one man was taken into custody at the crime scene at 1605 Pulaski Highway, but the man believed to be the shooter escaped on foot. The man who has been arrested also has not been identified and police have not said what charges he faces.

The slaying occurred after Ballard, who was on duty, approached the car in the convenience store’s parking lot. He approached the car and “made contact with the occupants and a struggle ensued,” McQueen said.

One man remained in the car but the other “exited the vehicle and proceeded to fire several rounds, striking the trooper,” McQueen said.

Photos taken at the shooting scene and circulated on Facebook showed paramedics trying to give first aid to the officer, who lay motionless in a pool of blood.

McQueen said “investigative measures” led officers to the house in the 500 block of St. Michael Drive in the Brick Mill Farm neighborhood. The man is barricaded and armed with an unknown type of firearm, said police, who told neighbors to remain in their homes and lock their doors until told otherwise.

Police barricades were set up about a half mile from the scene. Immediate neighbors on either side of the barricaded scene were evacuated. Other residents who came home later were told they could not enter their homes in Brick Mill Farm until the situation was brought under control. Police have brought in flood lights and other equipment to deal with the situation.

Police have said not said whether the suspect lives at the house in Brick Mill Farm, an enclave of sprawling homes with large, well-manicured lawns. The end of St. Michael Drive is a cul de sac road.  

The home where the suspect is holed up is about 15 miles from the murder scene. Police revealed his location about 3 p.m., saying in a news release that he fired several rounds at officers. They later said several Special Operations Response Teams and Conflict Management Teams from multiple agencies are attempting to make contact with the man.

News helicopters hovered above the neighborhood, broadcasting footage of the standoff.

Early in the standoff, Appoquinimink School District, which encompasses the Middletown area, announced a lock-down of all schools because “an armed individual is in the vicinity.” Parents were informed not to pick up their children. Sports and other extracurricular activities were canceled. The lock-down was lifted around 3:40 p.m., but the standoff continued.

Carney, who took office in January and within days had to grapple with a prison uprising that ended with a correctional officer killed by inmates, headed to the hospital about 2:30 p.m. More than two hours later, the governor filed into a hospital conference room  and stood silently with other officials, including Robert Coupe, secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which oversees police, and Lt. Thomas Bracken, president of the Delaware State Trooper’s Association.

Afterward, Carney’s office issued this statement from the governor: “One of our sworn troopers has lost his life performing a duty on behalf of the people of Delaware,” Carney’s statement said. “My heart is with the officer’s family and the officers who have served beside him. Delaware’s law enforcement officers go to work every day knowing they put their lives on the line to protect ours. We are incredibly indebted to their bravery and service.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper said his office is also monitoring the situation. He offered prayers to the extended police community for their safety.

About 30 minutes after the official announcement that the trooper had died, officers carried out what McQueen called a “dignified transfer” of the trooper’s body to the Division of Forensic Science in Wilmington for an autopsy.

The procession that included more than 50 police motorcycles and marked and unmarked SUVs and patrol cars left the hospital near Stanton and drove about 10 miles to the coroner’s office in Wilmington.

Outside the hospital, a crowd of nearly 200 people joined news crews to chronicle the solemn parade of vehicles that include one grayish truck with the words, “Forensic Investigator” on the side.

Many shot videos and photos, and all wore grim faces. Some fought back tears, and one woman sobbed.

“This is a sad day for our state and for the Delaware State Police family,” McQueen said. “We ask that you keep the trooper’s family and the members of the Delaware State Police family in your thoughts and prayers.”‘

Wednesday’s killing was the first by gunfire of a Delaware state trooper since 1972, and the 19th line-of-duty death in the history of Delaware’s largest police force.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal