Standoff takes a toll on police and residents

Any standoff with police brings stress.

Prolonged standoffs – such as the one that lasted nearly 32 hours at a south-side apartment complex before it ended Thursday night when the suspect died – took those emotions to another level.

You could see it on the faces of residents forced from their apartments at Southlake Village, 4141 S. Seneca, where a man sought in the previous day’s Kmart shooting was holed up.

And you could feel the tension for law enforcement officers working the scene.

Wichita police officer Rick Sears began monitoring who came in and out of Southlake at 6:45 a.m. Thursday. Apart from a few bathroom breaks and a quick lunch, he remained at his post until 5 p.m.

But he knows it was tougher for the officers closer to scene.

“For the guys down on the line, it’s not only the fatigue but the mental stress also,” Sears said. “You have to be constantly alert, aware of what’s going on, they’ve got to be sharp and on their top game.

Thursday’s mid-90s temperatures – even with overcast skies – made it difficult for SWAT members dressed in heavy gear and carrying equipment.

The standoff was the longest in Wichita in recent memory. Standoffs rarely last more than six or eight hours.

Lt. Doug Nolte couldn’t say where this standoff ranked in terms of length, but he added, “This is one of the longer ones we’ve had.”

Besides Wichita police, there were dozens of officers from other law enforcement agencies. SWAT units were switched out Thursday morning.

Nolte said it can take up to an hour or two to switch out law enforcement crews who monitor containment. It can’t all be done at once. Nolte said they do their best to make sure the officers avoid fatigue.

“They’re in a hyper-vigilante state, mentally and physically,” Nolte said. “The overseer has to be sure they remain fresh.”

Residents of three buildings at Southlake were evacuated when the suspect barricaded himself in one of the apartments shortly after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Some of the residents came back to the scene Thursday, eager to return to their homes.

Alyssa Cooper, who lives with her two young children and husband in the apartment next to where the suspect was hiding, was both relieved and scared after hearing the standoff had apparently ended.

“I have no idea what I’ll be walking into when I return,” she said. “I have to hope for the best.”

Police say they think the suspect knocked down a wall and broke into an adjoining apartment. Cooper said she thinks that apartment is hers, jumping her stress level a notch.

But she was feeling a little better after her boss agreed to put her up in a hotel Thursday night and bought her shoes so she could come to work Friday.

She and her kids were at the pool when law enforcement showed up Wednesday. They had to stay in the pool area for about three hours until they were told to evacuate the area. She was able to stay with her sister for the night.

“We left without taking anything,” she said.

Cooper said she hardly saw the suspect and thinks he’s friends with the person who lives in the apartment, who moved in about two months ago.

“I’ve seen his car, but I’ve never seen him,” Cooper said.

She said she usually saw his car parked under the shelter at the apartment, which is reserved for residents.

When police came knocking on their doors to start the evacuation, some residents had to leave without grabbing anything. For some, that meant leaving medications behind.

Sears was the person in the morning helping people get their medications from pharmacies. He would call and confirm the residents were unable to get to their apartments.

Casanova Cruz, 52, was among them. He said his family lives in the apartment below where the suspect was hiding.

After he and his family were put up in a hotel overnight by the Red Cross, he was at the Southlake entrance Thursday morning with his father and his pajama-clad children.

He said he was home Wednesday afternoon cooking food for his kids when he heard a “loud bang” at the door. It was SWAT ordering him to evacuate the building.

Cruz said he didn’t even take time to grab his billfold.

For the second straight night, the Red Cross made arrangements Thursday to house Southlake residents displaced by the standoff.

After putting up 12 residents in five hotel rooms Wednesday, the organization made arrangements for residents to stay Thursday night at Ruth Clark Elementary, 1900 W. 55th Street South. But only one person had shown up by 8 p.m.

“Our job is to make sure everyone has a place to return to,” shelter manager Victor Bowen said.

Nolte said Wichita police called other law enforcement agencies in the area to ask for help after the standoff lasted several hours.

Departments in Cowley, Butler and Harvey counties, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Derby, Hutchinson and others were called, he said.

This is standard procedure when a standoff goes on for a while, he said. Tactical people need to be alert, rested and ready, so help was requested and received, he said.

Wichita has occasionally backed up other departments in similar situations in the past, he said.

Contributing: Roy Wenzl and Matt Riedl of The Eagle

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