An extremely threatening situation evolved throughout the day Feb. 11 and culminated in an intense meeting between a distraught citizen and local law enforcement personnel in the Family Dollar store parking lot in Fairplay.
The fast-moving chain of events began when Park County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Hartsel that a man there was threatening to commit suicide with a pistol.
The PCSO, along with the assistance of the Fairplay Police Department, responded to Hartsel in order to locate and contain the situation.
Meanwhile, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw contacted family members of the individual threatening suicide and was able to determine his location in Hartsel.
Due to the close proximity to occupied homes, the roads leading into Hartsel were blocked off and a Code Red was issued for all Hartsel residents.
During further contact with family members, additional information was obtained that the individual had threatened to kill law enforcement personnel.
Shortly thereafter, Sheriff McGraw was able to contact the individual by phone. The individual indicated to McGraw that he had left the Hartsel area and was in the Fairplay area.
Law enforcement personnel promptly proceeded back to the Fairplay area. During the drive time to Fairplay, McGraw contacted the individual by phone again and determined that he was located in the area of Castello Avenue and Eighth Street, in Fairplay.
McGraw asked the man if he would be willing to meet law enforcement in the parking lot of the Family Dollar store, and he agreed to do so.
A Fairplay police officer was able to locate and maintain surveillance on the individual while reinforcements arrived back in Fairplay and scrambled into position around the store.
Due to the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the situation, South Park School District administrators were notified, and all students were secured inside the school in what McGraw referred to as a “soft lockdown.” Park County offices and the Family Dollar store were also locked down at that time.
“Family members of the individual in question were just very adamant with me in our discussions that they did not think this would end well,” McGraw said.
“And they were pretty convincing. So as we arrived at the Family Dollar, I was not real optimistic that the situation could be resolved without further incident.”
Upon arrival at the Family Dollar parking lot, which had also been completely shut down and sealed off by law enforcement, McGraw cautiously approached the distraught man while hoping for the best.
“The man assured me on the phone that he no longer was armed, but we had about eight law enforcement personnel in place just in case,” McGraw said.
“From a tactical standpoint, our first responsibility is to protect the public, and ourselves. But when I approached him, he fortunately offered no resistance.”
The individual was detained and transported to a mental health facility for observation and evaluation. No firearms were located on the individual, and no criminal charges have been filed at this time.
“I have never been a hostage crisis negotiator, but after 36 years in law enforcement you learn a little about how to calm people down when they are distressed,” McGraw said.
When asked how he opened the dialogue with the man in question, McGraw answered without hesitation.
“I introduced myself and asked: ‘Are you all right?,’” McGraw said.
“If you can get someone to talk openly with you about how they are doing, and get a reasonable, calm dialogue started, then that’s usually a good sign. But the real credit here belongs to PCSO deputies, FPD and the Park County 911 Dispatch Center. They all worked seamlessly together and did an outstanding job throughout the entire incident.”