WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) – Employees at In Motion Marine in Westerly were getting ready for a pizza party when they first heard police sirens, putting their year-end celebration on hold.
The seven employees quickly took shelter in a locked garage after learning police were responding to reports of an active shooter at nearby Babcock Village, a housing complex. They were soon joined by a neighbor.
“We’re kind of trapped in here,” Linda Logan told WPRI 12 on the phone while hiding out in the garage. “We just locked down because we thought he might be behind some of the buildings back here.”
The shooting ultimately resulted in the death of at least one victim and serious injury of two others; all three were women. Police said the gunman, a 66-year-old male resident of the complex, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The identities of the victims and shooter were not immediately released.
NEW: Two law enforcement sources confirm the Westerly suspect is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. https://t.co/4SSzzkoMxv— Tim White (@TimWhiteRI) December 19, 2019
The fatal shooting — just days before Christmas — shocked the seaside community of roughly 23,000 near the Connecticut border, a summertime retreat for pop icon Taylor Swift, who owns a home in Watch Hill.
Rep. Samuel Azzinaro, a Democrat who’s represented Westerly since 2008, told WPRI 12 such violence is uncommon.
“I don’t remember anything like this happening in Westerly – ever,” Azzinaro said. “I guess every city and town is vulnerable to this kind of thing.”
Police responded to reports of shots fired at the housing complex on Cross Street around 10:30 a.m. The residents were ordered to stay in their residences as police searched each room for the suspect, who was ultimately found dead in his room.
The shooting prompted the lockdown of Westerly Hospital and Westerly schools. A police officer had to escort a mother and son to their car at a children’s dentist office on Cross Street.
“Obviously, this is a low-crime community,” Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said at an afternoon press conference. “An active shooter situation — we don’t handle on a regular routine. Most departments don’t. It’s a shock to the community.”
Westerly resident Sean Pasell was among those who quickly reached out to loved ones as word of the shooting spread. Pasell said he began communicating with his two teenagers by text message. His children told him they were barricaded in their classroom, but could see a heavy police presence on school grounds.
“I did receive a kind of weird call from the school that said Westerly was in lockdown. They didn’t give me any other information,” Pasell said. “If I didn’t talk to my children that would have sent panic in me.”
Police lifted the lockdown in the early afternoon, and the district dismissed students early.
Words and tweets of support started flooding in.
“I am deeply saddened by this horrific shooting and the loss of a beloved member of the community who has done so much to serve the residents and neighbors of Babcock Village,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said in a statement. “This is a tremendous loss and a reminder that gun violence is all too prevalent in communities across the country.”
House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, a Republican who represents a part of Westerly, said he and others in the General Assembly were praying for the people of Babcock Village and their neighbors.
“At times like this we are thankful for all the first responders and hope they’re safe,” Filippi said.
Attorney General Peter Neronha, who attended the news conference, said his office would assist in the investigation moving forward.
“It’s a tragic day for Westerly, and of course, the victims,” he said.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who visited with first responders later in the afternoon, thanked them for their bravery.
“When they went into Babcock Village, it was an active shooter situation,” Raimondo said. “They didn’t know what they were walking into. They put their lives at risk.”
Bishop Thomas Tobin expressed condolences to the victims on Twitter.
“In this season when we mark the Birth of Emmanuel, the ‘God who is with us,’ may God be with you to heal and to give you comfort and peace,” Tobin said.
Hannah Dickison, Ted Nesi, Tim White, Steph Machado, Corey Welch, Courtney Carter and Anita Baffoni contributed to this report.