The man who fatally shot a Maryland firefighter and critically wounded another said he had thought he was stopping an attempted break-in when he opened fire, authorities said on Sunday.
The two firefighters who were shot as they tried to help a homeowner Friday night “did everything right” as they entered the home, the Prince George’s County fire chief said.
The firefighters forced their way into a home in Temple Hills, Maryland, at the request of the homeowner’s brother, who feared the man was having a medical emergency.
But when the firefighters got inside, the man opened fire with a handgun, police said.
“This past Friday evening about 7:30, we lived our worst nightmare,” Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said.
Firefighter paramedic John Ulmschneider, a 13-year veteran of the department, was the first person inside the home. The 37-year-old was fatally shot.
Volunteer Kevin Swain, 19, survived being shot four times.
“They acted in a crisis situation, and I believe they did everything right that night with the information that they had,” Bashoor told News4’s Darcy Spencer in his first interview since the deadly shooting.
No charges were filed against the homeowner who police said opened fire. Police said the man believed his house was being broken into and fired in self defense. He was questioned and released.
“It’s not that we have facts that didn’t lead us to it. It’s an absence of facts that would get us to where we’re confident in placing that charge,” Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said Monday.
Angela Alsobrooks, State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, said police are still analyzing evidence, and will conduct ballistics tests and interview witnesses.
Police still have to interview Swain and the homeowner’s brother, Stawinski said.
“We can tell you that there are any number of pieces of evidence that still need to be analyzed,” Alsobrooks said.
Alsobrooks said it’s “always possible” that charges could be filed in what she said is an active investigation.
“This community knows that we take very seriously all of these cases,” she said.
Alsobrooks said prosecutors will have to assess whether the homeowner believed he was in danger, and whether his belief and actions were reasonable in the mind of an ordinary person.
Stawinski said the homeowner was interviewed by police.
He said when police want to conduct an interview, if there’s a question regarding the subject’s lucidity or ability to be interviewed, that person is sent for a medical hep.
“Based on how he presented himself to us subsequent to the incident, that wasn’t necessary and he submitted himself for the interview,” Stawinski said.
He said no single piece of information will determine whether charges will be placed.
Bashoor said the fire department will make changes to try to prevent similar tragedies from happening again. Officials will review response protocol, but Bashoor said it will be an ongoing process and won’t be quick.
According to current protocol for welfare checks, firefighters typically will wait for police if there is no indication of an emergency, Bashoor said.
However, in this case, the homeowner’s brother had indicated a possible diabetic crisis, Bashoor said.
“From the preliminary information I’ve looked at, our folks did everything they were trained to do,” Bashoor said Monday. “…They did all of the right things, based on the information they had in front of them. We charge those people with the responsibility to make decisions in a crisis, on the fly.”
He called the first-responders “valiant.”
“The Fire & EMS Department, this isn’t what we experience every day,” he said, praising two other crew members, a man and a woman, who were injured as they tried to rescue one of their colleagues after the shooting.
“They were in the process of dragging one of our folks back, and in that process, they were injured,” he said.
Those two crew members were treated and released Friday night. The fire chief said the female crew member suffered a dislocated jaw.
Swain remained hospitalized as of Monday afternoon. He was continuing to improve and had been moved out of intensive care. He still has a long road ahead, Bashoor said.
Funeral plans for Ulmschneider are underway, Bashoor said.
The firefighters union established an online donation page to help the Ulmschneider family. Ulmschneider was survived by a wife and a 2-year-old daughter.
“He was just always a class act. A tough firefighter that always wanted to get the job done and always cared about other people,” said Andrew Pantelis, the president of the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association.
“It’s not often that you hear of firefighters getting shot and killed and it’s stunning,” Pantelis said.