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Snipers’ priority: Save hostage’s life

1st police-action shooting for both, chief says

Two Fort Wayne police snipers who killed a man to save a young boy had never been involved in a police-action shooting, Police Chief Rusty York said Thursday.

Shortly before noon Wednesday, Kenneth Knight, 45, barricaded himself inside a home at 3018 Holton Ave. after shooting 49-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier Hardy to death earlier that morning.

Knight pulled Hardy off a Citilink bus in the area of East Pettit Avenue and Reed Street about 8 a.m. and shot her with a shotgun, police said.

Afterward, he led police on an eight-hour manhunt that ended on Holton Avenue. Keith W. Wallace and Martin P. Grooms, the snipers who shot Knight, were stationed across the street, York said.

Both had been told that if an opportunity arose to fire a shot and not endanger the 3-year-old boy being held hostage inside, they were to take it, York said.

“There’s a lot of communication that takes place – they each know what the other is doing, but we reiterated, use all caution to make sure the little one was not in the area, and he was not,” he said.

The two shots were fired simultaneously and both bullets struck Knight, killing him, York said. Both officers and the department’s lead negotiator in the hostage situation were placed on a five-day paid administrative leave per department policy, York said.

The officers will also have access to counseling before returning to work, he said.

The lead negotiator was not identified Thursday.

York said he spoke with all three officers after the shooting Wednesday and again on Thursday.

“All three gentlemen are professionals. It’s a tough situation – I let them know, if there’s anything they need, they can contact any one of (the command staff),” York said. “It’s a very traumatic event. It’s one you train for throughout your career, but obviously you hope it never happens.”

Grooms, 43, joined the department in May 2003 and has never had any form of disciplinary action taken against him, according to his personnel file.

In 2008, he was given a meritorious service citation.

Grooms has served on the Emergency Services Team for seven years.

Wallace, 43, joined the department in January 2001. He has been suspended three times for police vehicle accidents and three times for being absent without leave, according to his personnel file.

He has also been given letters of reprimand for three police vehicle accidents and one letter for abuse of city property.

Wallace has also received five letters of commendation since 2002 and was given a meritorious service citation in 2011.

Wallace has served on the Emergency Services Team for two years.

.308-caliber rifles

Throughout the afternoon, Grooms and Wallace continuously updated police about the situation, keeping a close eye on Knight and the child through the scopes of their .308-caliber sniper rifles.

From their station across the road, the snipers were able to take cover, but were also within range to ensure a safe shot, York said. The men were located about 40 to 60 yards away, he said.

Lt. Kevin Zelt, commander of the police department’s Emergency Services Team, also known as a SWAT team, said the city’s snipers are trained to shoot at distances up to 1,000 yards, but when stationed in a primarily urban environment, the maximum distance is reduced to about 100 yards. Of the 29 members of the Emergency Services Team, 10 are trained snipers, Zelt said.

“I think the longest shot in the department’s history was taken from about 68 yards,” Zelt said.

The weapons used by Fort Wayne police snipers are Remington Model 700 bolt rifles, he said.

Some of the characteristics that Zelt looks for in snipers are the same characteristics that make a good hunter.

“There’s actually a lot of the same aspects involved,” Zelt said.

For example, he said, snipers must be able to sit in uncomfortable conditions for long periods of time without moving or making noise without being relieved by a team member. In addition, snipers cannot be colorblind, he said.

The marksmanship skills of hunters and snipers are also similar, Zelt said.

“If you see a large animal out in the distance, you’d have to have to have the marksmanship skills to shoot that deer from a distance,” he said.

Zelt said his snipers are taught to shoot to stop the person from doing whatever it is they are doing, but not necessarily to kill the target.

However, he said, the department recognizes that the best way to achieve that goal is a surgical shot to the head area.

“We’re not concerned about whether they live or die. If they survive, that’s fine. As long as it stops them from doing what they’re doing,” Zelt said. “People ask why we don’t shoot in the leg, but there’s no guarantee the person would survive that way either. And it’s not going to stop them from killing other people.”

Though a Fort Wayne police sniper’s primary responsibility is to serve as a member of the city’s Emergency Service Team, they attend additional training to obtain sniper skills, Zelt said.

All Emergency Services Team members attend basic and advanced school in order to join the team and train two days a month on specific skills. They also attend a one-week training each year at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh.

Snipers attend an additional training day each month as well as a one-week sniper training school, Zelt said.

Snipers learn about the basic fundamentals of the rifle, including how it operates and the shooting capabilities and then focus on marksmanship skills.

Dan Stockman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.