‘Hearts broken’: 4 dead after lengthy Detroit standoff

James David Dickson, Candice Williams, and Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police and neighbors don’t know why the shooting began but, once it did, it didn’t seem to end.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig briefs the media on the situation of the barricaded gunman on Lamont Avenue Monday.

By the time it was over, three women were dead and three officers were injured on the city’s east side, said police. The shootings, which occurred during a 14-hour standoff that lasted from Sunday night to Monday morning, ended only when the gunman fatally shot himself.

The mystery deepened with the identity of the alleged gunman, Lance Smith, 49, of Detroit.

Neighbors said Smith could be a little strange but never showed signs of violence. They said he and his live-in girlfriend, who was one of the women killed, seemed to get along.

Police officers respond to a scene on East Outer Drive in Detroit.

“They seemed to be fine,” said neighbor Alexis Sandoval.

Smith had no criminal history or even contact with police, said law enforcement officials. A relative told police Smith suffered from mental illness, but authorities haven’t confirmed that, said police Chief James Craig.

Smith, who had a concealed pistol license, owned seven guns, said police.

Given Smith’s past, Craig called the rampage an anomaly.

“Here we are, talking about another tragedy on so many levels,” he said.

Police respond to a scene near East Outer Drive in Detroit, where a barricaded gunman on Lamont St. shot a  Detroit police officer.

The names of the three women weren’t released as of Monday evening. Two women were related to the girlfriend and lived across the street in the 19400 block of Lamont, said police. They went to the girlfriend’s home during a domestic dispute and were fatally shot outside the house.

An off-duty officer with the Detroit Public Schools Police Department, who lived across the street and was married to one of the two women, also went to the girlfriend’s home and was shot in the leg, said police. Two officers with the Detroit Police Department then went to the home and also were shot in the leg.

None of the injuries to the officers were life-threatening and all three have been or are expected to be released from the hospital soon, said police.

During the shooting spree, nine officers were pinned to the ground for an hour before they were helped by the SWAT team.

“I will not be taken without a fight,” Smith told them, according to Craig.

The chief said the gunman fully intended to claim more victims.

An EMS unit leaves the scene at Lamont St. where a Detroit police officer was shot.

“He clearly expressed an intention to do harm,” said Craig. “He clearly expressed an intent to hurt police officers.”

In the wake of the tragedy, a Detroit city councilman asked a community health agency to extend its hours Monday to help people who needed grief counseling. Open Arms operated its hotline until 7 p.m.

As for whatever led to the shooting, Councilman Scott Benson encouraged anyone experiencing stress or mental health challenges to seek help from Open Arms or local mental health agencies.

“Our hearts are broken over today’s tragic events,” he said. “We are sending our prayers to the families of the deceased and the injured officers.”

The incident began Sunday night with an argument between Smith and his girlfriend, said police. The reason for the argument wasn’t known.

The two women then came to the home to help the woman, and were shot, said police. A neighbor reported the shooting to the off-duty school officer, who approached the home and also was shot.

Police respond to a barricaded gunman situation Monday, Feb. 12 2018 on Detroit's northwest side

The neighbor called police at 10:27 p.m.

Detroit police responded seven minutes later and were assailed by a hail of bullets, they said. A city police officer was shot. During a second round of shooting by the gunman, another city police officer was shot.

The number of shots fired by the gunman wasn’t known. Police never returned fire because they weren’t sure where the gunman was shooting from, they said.

The Detroit police SWAT team arrived and used its armored vehicle to pull the three injured officers to safety. It also retrieved the bodies of the two women.

“There easily could have been a higher death toll today,” said Elvin Barren, Detroit deputy police chief.

Police tried to flush Smith from the home with flash-bang grenades and three deployments of tear gas, but the efforts failed, they said. They lobbed the third canister of tear gas into the home at 2 a.m. Sunday, said Craig.

Police then heard several gunshots in the home, said Craig. After that, they no longer had any contact with Smith.

Not knowing whether the alleged gunman was still alive, police used a robot to enter the second floor of the home late Monday morning, said Craig. The robot, equipped with a camera, showed images of the gunman and girlfriend both deceased.

During the standoff, a nearby school canceled its classes Monday. Neighbors were told to remain in their homes.

As neighbors finally emerged in the aftermath of the ordeal, they could only shake their heads.

Michael Brown said he couldn’t even imagine the nightmare being visited on the women’s family.

“You lose three family members in one day. It’s unheard of,” he said.

The shooting follows the death of Officer Glenn Doss, who died Jan. 28 at age 25 at Detroit Receiving Hospital after being shot in the head Jan. 24 while responding to a domestic violence call the previous Wednesday on the city’s east side.