Rick and Debbie Ciavarella were lying on the couch in their Silver Spring apartment shortly before 10 Monday night, watching "The Towering Inferno" when they heard the woman's screams.
The shouts of "Help me, help me" were not coming from the television; they were coming from the apartment next door.
"Rick jumped up and got the [shotgun] from under the couch," Debbie Ciavarella recalled yesterday. "I said I was going to call the cops."
The Ciavarellas then heard more screams and someone pounding on the neighbor's door. As Debbie went for the telephone, Rick, dressed only in blue jeans, went out the front door.
The next time she saw her husband, he was near death.
"In the next second, there were no more voices, no sound of fighting," Debbie Ciavarella said, her voice choking. "When Rick went out the door, the door slammed and 'pow,' the shot went off."
There was another shot, and then Rick Ciavarella, a 26-year-old machine equipment operator, was lying in a pool of blood, curled face down in the dimly lit hallway. His unloaded shotgun lay beneath his body.
Ciavarella had been fatally shot twice in the chest by a pistol-toting man police say was trying to abduct the woman next door.
"He should have stayed in the apartment," Ciavarella's mother Grace said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But it was his duty to do a good deed when a woman yells." Sobbing with grief, she said her son "was doing a good deed."
Montgomery County police issued a murder warrant yesterday for Robert Donald Smith, a 35-year-old Mitchellville man, in connection with the shooting. Police said Smith was looking for his estranged wife, Barbara Jean, the night of the shooting. His search took him to the Wood Lake apartments at 14001 Castle Blvd., where a friend of his wife -- Claudia Sue Pinnow -- lives across the hall from the Ciavarellas. Smith's estranged wife was said to have stayed with Pinnow recently.
According to police, Smith was trying to abduct Pinnow when Rick Ciavarella stepped out into the hallway to intervene.
After the shooting, Pinnow was abducted by Smith and released unharmed an hour later in Laurel, police said.
"I'm okay," Pinnow said yesterday, sitting in her apartment sipping a beer. "But I don't want to say anything."
Pinnow said she had never met Rick Ciavarella, who had lived in the apartment complex since May 1979.
A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she heard screams and turned down her television set.
"I thought it was kids," she said yesterday. "Then I heard the shots. They echoed in the stairs, and then a sound like a cat moaning."
She then heard a man run out into the parking lot with Pinnow, and saw the woman doubled over in the parking lot near a black customized van with chrome wheels.
One floor above, neighbor Laura Roberts said she heard the man tell Pinnow, "If you don't get in the car I'll shoot you." The van then sped out of the parking lot, its headlights off.
"Then I heard a bone-chilling scream," Roberts recalled.
Debbie Ciavarella, too terrified to open her apartment door, ran out the back door past her husband's motorcycle. She walked to the front of the apartment building, into the hallway, and found her husband's body slumped on their doorstep.
According to a neighbor, Debbie Ciavarella ran upstairs screaming, "Somebody shot my husband, somebody shot my husband."
"I got there within a minute," Laura Roberts said."He wasn't breathing, the pulse was faint. I started to realize what had happened. His arm was completely shattered . . . and there was blood."
She gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But by the time paramedic crews from nearby Burtonsville arrived 10 minutes later, Ciavarella's pulse had all but vanished. He was pronounced dead at Prince George's General Hospital.
Yesterday, as janitors scrubbed the bloodstained green carpet with ammonia, neighbors gathered outside the apartment complex trying to fathom the tragedy.
"He didn't get that far out of the door," one resident said.
"He didn't know that girl or anything. He just heard her screaming for help," said another neighbor.
At the Silver Spring construction company, Clevecon Inc., where Rick Ciavarella had worked for one year, a woman remembered him as "very reliable and very nice."
The slain man's mother said the Ciavarellas moved to the Washington area from Altoona, Pa., six years ago. His wife, Debbie, was being comforted there yesterday by family members.
"I still don't know what happened," she said calmly.