Police tell us a suspect is in custody after a homicide at Walmart in the early morning hours of Thursday. A homicide investigation following a late-night death at Ithaca’s Walmart led area police agencies to cordon off a residential area on Dryden Road. Route 366 reopened at about 11:20 Thursday morning after being closed between Varna (at Turkey Hill Road) and the Route 13 intersection near NYSEG.
We’ve learned from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department and Ithaca Police Department this morning that authorities used a robot to communicate with a suspect who had barricaded himself in his residence on Route 366. IPD police chief John R. Barber credited a “skilled and trained negotiator operating the robot and talking to the suspect this morning” with helping bring the situation to a successful resolution. “As a result of that dialogue via that skilled negotiator, the suspect surrendered peacefully without any further harm to anyone,” Barber said.
An early morning statement from the Ithaca Police Department said the investigation began when officers responded to a report of a shooting in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Ithaca’s southwest at 12:52am on Thursday.
Police found a deceased male shooting victim in the shopping center parking lot, and “a male suspect fled the area prior to police arrival.” Officers from Cayuga Heights Police Department and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department spotted a vehicle matching the provided description traveling northbound on Route 13, and pursued the suspect, attempting to stop him near the intersection with Route 366.
According to the Ithaca Police Department, the suspect refused to stop on Route 13, but pulled into a driveway on Route 366, exited the vehicle “with a long gun, and shot at police officers as he fled toward the area believed to be his residence.”
“This man turned with a long gun and fired at police officers,” said Chief Barber. “I’m very thankful that none of the officers involved were killed this morning. I think it’s an important reminder that these officers go out on the street every day and do a very dangerous job.”
“A perimeter has been established and officers are proceeding methodically to secure the area and apprehend the suspect,” said IPD public information officer Jamie Williamson in a statement early Thursday morning. “Several tactical teams are on the scene.”
Sheriff Ken Lansing of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department said SWAT teams “methodically talked the suspect into surrendering peacefully.” The suspect is in Sheriff’s Department custody “and will be arraigned later today,” Lansing added. No one else was in the suspect’s residence during the standoff.
Authorities have “no idea” whether the shooting victim and suspect knew each other, according to Sheriff Lansing. The victim, reported to be a UPS employee, is from Candor.
Some residents of the Varna stretch of Dryden Road were evacuated from their homes for their safety, according to the Ithaca Police Department. Ithaca musician Mandy Goldman, a resident who lives about a quarter mile from the cordoned-off area, told 14850 Today early this morning, “they have the road blocked at both ends, and we’re in the middle.” Residents nearest the suspect’s house were awakened and offered a room at a nearby hotel.
Sheriff Lansing said that in addition to IPD and his department, personnel were on the scene this morning from the Cayuga Heights Police Department, New York State Park Police, NYSP aviation unit, NYSP forensic identification unit, NYSP major crimes unit, Ithaca SWAT, Cornell University Police Department, Dryden Police Department, Dryden Ambulance, NYS crisis negotiating unit, Bangs Ambulance, Syracuse Police, FBI, Tompkins County Mental Health Department, Tompkins County district attorney’s office, and Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re grateful to have such professional and capable police,” said City of Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick at a media briefing this morning. “Not just the Ithaca Police Department, but all the departments and agencies that helped.”
“Over the years, we have developed such good relationships through networking that we were able to assemble very quickly this morning, and bring this situation to a successful conclusion without further loss of life,” Chief Barber said. “We appreciate the cooperation and support,” he added, from “members of the public, in particular the area we had to cordon off this morning.”
The success of this morning’s joint operation illustrates “the importance of a well-trained tactical team and negotiation team,” says Chief Barber. “You hear that policing is moving towards a militarized state,” Barber added. “This is an example of specialized equipment for a situation just like this where it pays off in huge dividends.”