Ending a seven-hour siege outside a hotel in Dearborn by dozens of police from numerous departments and joined by federal officers as well, Michigan State Police, officers at about 8:30 pm Thursday night took into custody a gunman whom they said fatally shot a hotel clerk in a dispute over money the man owed for his stay.
The incident closed Michigan Avenue in West Dearborn through the afternoon rush hour, and the usually busy artery remained closed Thursday night.
Dearborn police said the man, 38, had a history not only of drug abuse and gun involvement but also of mental illness. That prompted both the city’s police chief and its recently elected mayor to join an increasing call for the nation and Michigan to provide more mental-health treatment for Americans. No officers or hotel guests were injured but the hotel clerk, 55, of Riverview, was “just trying to do his job” when the suspect shot him with a rifle at the outset of the incident shortly after 1 pm, Dearborn police Chief Issa Shahin said.
“My prayers go out to his family,” Shahin said, referring to the clerk.
“There was a confrontation over a bill. (The gunman) was upset, asking for a refund,” and the shooting happened on the third floor, he said. Police arrived after about two minutes, and “when we saw him going up the hallway, he saw us and ducked into his room,” after which the suspect began shouting threats to officers, Shahin said.
‘Time that we had solutions’
“There’s a broader issue here of people with mental illness who get involved with guns,” the chief said, shortly after police arrested the suspect. He spoke while standing in otherwise deserted Michigan Avenue, devoid of vehicles other than numerous squad cars, fire trucks, EMS vehicles, and armored SWAT vehicles. Standing beside Shahin was Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, who said it was “about time” that the nation did more to treat mental illness.
“We ask everybody to pray for our police officers (and) first responders,” Hammoud said to reporters. “Pray for the family of the victim, as well as pray for the family of the assailant,” he urged.
“We know that there are broader issues at hand as it pertains to the mental health crisis that’s ongoing not only in our region but in our state, in our country, as well as accessibility to firearms. And we’re hoping that those in the right positions of power do act on this. It’s about time that we had solutions,” Hammoud said.
The incident came days after Detroit police fatally shot a mentally ill man who charged at them while wielding a knife. That prompted Detroit’s chief to denounce what he termed failures of the nation’s healthcare system. On Thursday, the family of the man announced they would sue the city for wrongful death.
In Dearborn, officials Thursday night declined to identify the victim or the suspect or to say where the suspect was from. Getting the suspect to surrender took tireless and expert negotiating by the Dearborn police crisis team, Shahin said. The chief had made an appeal through evening TV broadcasts, urging the suspect to turn himself in.
Several members of the suspect’s family assisted in the negotiations, including at least one who came to the scene, a police spokesman said earlier. Shahin, a veteran of the department and appointed in December as Dearborn’s first Muslim police chief, managed the negotiations and siege of the suspect’s hotel room from a command post inside the hotel, the spokesman said.
“There’s a broader issue here of people with mental illness who get involved with guns,” the chief said. Standing beside him at a news conference following the arrest, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah echoed Shahin’s reference to society’s challenge with mental illness. It’s “about time” that the nation did more to treat mental illness, Abdullah said.
Guest escapes after hours-long seize
Earlier, bystanders on Michigan Avenue, held about 200 yards from the hotel by a police cordon, heard the sound of breaking glass disrupt the eerie quiet on usually busy Michigan Avenue, which police closed to traffic soon after the shooting started. In darkness brightened by a police light tower, gawkers saw a fire truck raise and swivel its ladder to a third-floor window, which first responders shattered, after which a man stepped through the window opening and was lowered to safety.
Police later said he was the lone guest in the hotel who’d been unable to evacuate after the shooting. The guest was rescued from the front of the hotel while the shooter was holed up in the building’s rear, police said. One of those watching was Alaa Samad, who manages Moose’s Martini Pub.
“It’s scary,” Samad said. His employees had called him to say that police roadblocks were keeping them from reaching their jobs, and that they’d heard gunfire.
“Everyone is here, state police, Dearborn police. My staff is panicking. You never expect something like this over here,” Samad said. The west end of Dearborn, where the shooting occurred at a Hampton Inn, is an upscale area with many new condominiums, apartments, restaurants, and upscale bars.
Police said they enlisted high-tech tactics, both to negotiate with the shooter and to keep tabs on his location and behavior. Their tools included cellphones, robots, and drones, “to do everything we can for a resolution,” Dearborn police spokesman Cpl. Dan Bartok said. A state police helicopter flew over the peaceful hotel after the incident began. But state police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw said the chopper was called off and replaced with surveillance by aerial drones, “because helicopters can make shooters nervous.”
Police declined to identify the victim or the suspect, and would not say where the suspect was from.
“We don’t believe he’s a local resident,” Bartok said. But he noted that the gunman’s relatives, who assisted with the negotiations, “didn’t fly in.”
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With squad cars blocking streets throughout the area, and officers in full tactical gear taking up positions on each corner, residents at first didn’t know what to make of the starting police presence.
“We thought it was just like a car accident because those are typical around here,” said Hiam Beydoun, 20, who was doing homework in the area. Her sense of the situation changed rapidly after “we saw there were a lot more cops, no cars, and they were starting to block things off.”
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