A standoff between law enforcement and a barricaded man led to explosions that set a property ablaze Wednesday night in a quiet, residential suburb near New Haven, Conn.
For several days, the barricaded man had been holding his wife hostage in their home in North Haven, about five miles from the Yale University campus, according to a town official, North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda. When authorities learned of a domestic disturbance at the home, police officers and a SWAT team spent hours trying to “coax very gently and compassionately” the man out of the house, Freda said.
Police did not release the names of the couple.
While the SWAT team negotiated with the suspect, police officers searched the surrounding areas of the property, including a barn behind the house. Their entry into the barn set off a loud explosion that shook the neighborhood and could be felt from several blocks away. Other explosions followed, leading authorities to conclude the barn could have been outfitted with booby traps.
As many as eight officers were injured, Jonathan R. Mulhern, deputy chief of the North Haven Police Department, told reporters. The injuries included cuts, abrasions and concussions, but none were life-threatening, Freda said. Several officers were transported to Yale New Haven Hospital, which confirmed on Twitter it received seven patients involved in the explosions.
The explosions caused the barn to erupt into flames. The blaze soon enveloped the house itself and sent smoke billowing into the night sky.
“North Haven shook. I mean, everyone heard it,” Nancy Sundwall, who could see the flames from a nearby road, told the New Haven Register. “The whole sky turned pitch black with smoke.”
Freda said he believed the wife managed to escape from the house before the fire, but he could not confirm her condition. It was unclear whether the man was inside the barn or house when the fire spread, but Connecticut State Police Trooper Kelly Grant told reporters the man was not in police custody as of about 2 a.m. Thursday. She urged residents to stay in their homes while authorities attempted to locate the man.
Law enforcement sources told the Hartford Courant the man’s wife had been severely beaten and was being treated at a hospital. She filed for divorce last month, the Courant reported. Authorities could not say whether there were children in the house.
A neighbor told WTNH police officers could be heard negotiating with the man over a loudspeaker, saying: “John, please come to the window. Please show yourself. We are here to help.”
At about 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, hours before the standoff, a woman arrived at the North Haven Police Department complaining about a domestic disturbance at the home on Quinnipiac Avenue. The complaint spurred authorities to descend on the home and attempt to negotiate with the man, who was barricading himself and his wife inside the house.
“I don’t really know much about the suspect,” Freda said. “We’ve never really had any issues from what I understand.” He added that “something triggered the event today,” which he called a “chaotic tragedy.”
The massive fire, along with the dozens of firefighters and police officers on the street, disrupted an otherwise quiet neighborhood. Footage from local news stations shows officers lying in stretchers being loaded into ambulances. The fire continued to burn early Thursday, and fire officials told the Associated Press that power was out in the area. A local firehouse had been set up as a “refuge” for residents without power.
“We don’t usually see these situations here in town,” Freda told reporters, saying the most chaotic scenes he has witnessed in his nearly nine years in office occur during hurricanes and storms.
But, he said, “wherever there are people, there seems to be a high level of tension out there in today’s society, maybe a degree of mental illness, and sometimes the manifestation of that turns into what we saw here today.”
“I’m tremendously grateful that there were no fatalities,” Freda also said.
Concerned residents in the surrounding area took to the North Haven Police Department’s Facebook page, asking one another what the loud boom might have been.
“Did anyone just hear a loud explosion?” Kristina Canning wrote. “My whole house just shook.”
One local said, “Our house shook all the way across town.” Another said she thought her house “was going to fall apart. … Windows shook, … pups scared to death and now 2 more explosions!”
Neighbor John Marotto told the Hartford Courant that after the blast, he saw a group of people get “blown away” from the barn, “and then the roof was gone.”
“I heard them screaming,” Marotto said. “The side facing our house was totally gone. It was unbelievable — the noise, unbelievable. I thought I was in a war zone.”
Another neighbor told WTNH his family had just finished eating dinner when they heard the explosion.
“It knocked my wife to the floor,” the neighbor told the news station. “I huddled my family into the bedroom, locked the door and came out to see what was going on. You could see the house was fully engulfed.”
From her home a mile away, North Haven resident Joan Mazurek thought she heard a train. It was the blast.
“Then we heard all the, oh, my God, all the ambulances and fire engines. The noise from all the emergency vehicles was unbelievable,” she told the AP. “It’s a shock. Nothing ever happens like this in North Haven.”
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