She grabbed her 3-year-old son and his blanket, and Thomas Hill woke up their 7-year-old daughter and herded her downstairs, along with their two older girls.
Police were in a standoff across Woodland Drive with Tracy Woodfork, 22, of Bladensburg. He had called 911 and said he had a gun and wanted to die, police said. He also said he wanted the police to kill him, they said. His girlfriend, 23, was with three children inside the home, where she works as a live-in babysitter.
Police said they tried to persuade Woodfork, who was in a stairwell outside the back of the house, to drop what they thought was a weapon. He also had a bottle of liquor with him, police said. While they talked, police came in the front and snuck the girlfriend and children out. Police again saw what they thought was a gun, they said.
Just after 5 a.m., Woodfork started walking up the stairwell, police said, and they shot him. Police said they then learned he was in possession of a “replica handgun.”
He was pronounced dead later at an area hospital.
“It’s not a real gun but made to look like a real gun,” said Officer Rebecca Innocenti, a police spokeswoman. The officers involved are on paid leave pending an investigation. A woman who answered the phone at Woodfork’s Bladensburg address declined to comment.
The Hills heard the burst of gunfire from their basement.
They rushed the four children into a basement closet and shut the door.
“They were shaking like leaves,” Thomas Hill said of his family. He stood at the base of the stairs. “If anybody came in, they were going to have to go through me first.”
Soon, the parents spoke by phone with police and learned what had happened. The terrified children emerged, crying and shaking. Thomas Hill said they refused to leave the basement for hours, until Kizzy Hill decided the 3-year-old needed to go to preschool rather than sit at home terrified all day, and they slowly began going upstairs.
Other neighbors were awakened by the gunshots and spent anxious hours in their homes wondering what had happened. Jeannette Kiminas, a retired federal worker, heard a series of booms that were so loud she thought something fell in her home. Hours later, a detective came by to explain that Woodfork “was intoxicated and wouldn’t give it up, whatever he was doing,” Kiminas said.
Told that Woodfork had a replica handgun, Kiminas, 70, said the police did what they had to do.
“It’s them or you. The guy or the police. . . . You can’t say, ‘Is it real or not?’ ” Kiminas said. “You brandish a gun . . . you’re taking your life in your hands.”
The couple who owns the home where the shooting took place had left children with the babysitter while they were away in New York. They declined to give their names.
“The only thing I’ll say is, this is a tragedy and there were many victims here,” the woman said.
Thomas Hill said he tried to stay calm during the panic before his family learned who fired the shots.
He was also thinking about redundancies: He stood guard at the staircase, and his wife was outside the closet. “It was going to have to be a two-layer penetration . . . if they wanted to hurt the babies,” he said.
When he finally learned Woodfork had alcohol but not a real gun, his thoughts moved to recalling his own drunken mistakes and thinking about a family that lost one of its own.
“He might have just been drunk and talking on the the phone,” he said. “Usually, people with ill-will have real materials and they’re not calling 911.”