Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts reported the man who shot himself Sunday in his home is dead. Roberts also said the information the man was armed and drunk demanded police take caution and follow certain processes, but that did not lessen the frustration felt by first responders.
“What if we could have gone into the home sooner?” he speculated. “... Will the outcome be different?”
Police at 10:31 a.m. Sunday received a 9-1-1 call about an armed man at 110 N.W. Seventh St., according to the Pendleton police media bulletin. Roberts said the man’s wife made the call and reported her husband was intoxicated and threatened her with a hunting-type rifle. Alcohol played a role in the man’s life, he said, and the wife and their two children fled the home, but she feared he turned the rifle on himself.
Pendleton police responded to the two-story home, along with officers from Oregon State Police and the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office. Police were in body armor with assault rifles in hand. Neighbors reported police took positions in their yards near the house, and Roberts said officers moved some people out of the way for their safety.
Establishing communication with the man was a top priority, Roberts said. The family called the man, but he did not answer, and police got no response when trying to talk to him using a tactical vehicle’s public address system. Negotiators next used a “throw phone,” Roberts said. The device has a speaker system and multiple cameras that officers can literally throw into a room to try and see and talk to someone.
“We insert those when we can’t establish communication by other means,” Roberts said.
Tossing the phone into the house sparked the dogs there to bark madly, Roberts said, but they soon quieted. He said police worked on the assumption the man calmed the dogs and thus was still active.
That does not appear to be the case now, but Roberts said going up and knocking on the door was not a safe option. Police have the legal authority to enter a home in certain situations, but he explained they had to rely on the information the man was armed and intoxicated.
“Those are circumstances that we’re not going to put someone in harm’s way,” he said. “Obviously, if and when possible, we want people to give up the gun and come out on their own accord.”
Police sought a search warrant to enter the home, which meant finding a circuit court judge on a Sunday to sign it. The warrant came through in the afternoon, allowing the 10-officer tactical team to go in. They used a type of “flash-bang” grenade to create a diversion, Roberts said. The boom of the explosion at about 3:40 p.m. carried through the surrounding area. Police fired no guns.
The team found the man in the basement unresponsive and suffering from one gunshot wound, Roberts said. Pendleton paramedics were in the home moments later. No one knew when the injury occurred, he said, and the type of injury, its location and other evidence eliminated the wife as a suspect.
Roberts also reported the gun at the scene was small caliber, which would not have produced a loud bang. The basement location also may have helped muffle the noise.
Police had the LifeFlight helicopter on standby at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, Pendleton. An ambulance team took the man to nearby Pioneer Park, and the emergency aircraft circled overhead before landing at the park’s south end. That event drew many onlookers, including families at the park’s playground.
Several minutes passed before paramedics rolled the victim on a stretcher across the park and into the helicopter, which flew him to Providence St. Mary Medical Center, Walla Walla.
One man at the park grew upset and said the victim was his brother-in-law. He said he could not fathom what had happened, and his main concern now was for his niece and nephew.
Roberts said the county coroner there called Sunday at 6:59 p.m. and reported the man died.
“As far a we’re concerned,” he said, “it’s closed at this point.”
Suicide is preventable, and help is available for community members struggling from a mental health crisis and/or suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know needs help with suicidal thoughts or is otherwise in an immediate mental health crisis, professionals are on call to handle mental health emergencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Call the Umatilla County mental health crisis number at 800-452-5413 or 541-278-5720; and the Lifeways Inc. crisis number is 866-343-4473 or 541-276-6207.
More information is available online at www.co.umatilla.or.us/AD/index.html
Help also is available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Editor’s note: It is the policy of the East Oregonian to not identify victims of suicide and attempted suicide in most cases.