Police: Latrobe man made 'suicidal statements' during standoff

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, July 22, 2013, 11:36 a.m.

Just after 11:30 a.m. Friday, Scott Murphy took aim at a door in the second-floor room where he had been hiding from police in his Latrobe home.

Several heavily armed state troopers were climbing a staircase after using a bullhorn to negotiate with the barricaded man over 17 hours.

What happened next was “suicidal,” Trooper John Matchik said on Monday during a news conference.

“At that time, Mr. Murphy began to open fire” from behind the closed door, Matchik said.

At least one of about four shots fired struck Trooper Brian King in his ballistic shield and helmet. The troopers, part of a Special Emergency Response Team, returned gunfire and retreated to assist King, 44, who had suffered an eye injury.

King had surgery in UPMC Presbyterian hospital and has been released. He is expected to make a full recovery, police said.

The helmet and bulletproof mask protected King from a potentially fatal wound, Matchik said.

“He was very, very fortunate,” Matchik said. “That's what the equipment is designed to do.”

Matchik said that about noon on Friday, the team regrouped, and some troopers went back into the Lloyd Avenue home while others set up a perimeter. After a second exchange of gunfire — witnesses heard at least 20 shots — Murphy, 46, was found dead of gunshot wounds, police said.

He had a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun and an AR-15 assault rifle. Matchik was not sure whether the weapons were licensed to Murphy.

Investigators have not said who fired the fatal shot. Police have not determined the total number of shots fired, Matchik said.

“Several of our SERT members discharged their firearms through the course of events at Mr. Murphy,” Matchik said. Those troopers have been placed on administrative leave, police said.

Murphy “made several suicidal statements to negotiators,” Matchik said.

A neighbor has said Murphy had been depressed since his wife's death in 2011. His court records show one drug possession charge and several theft charges.

“Our negotiators gave Mr. Murphy every chance to come out of the residence peacefully,” Matchik said. “That was our intent, to end the process peacefully.”

Murphy's son Steven declined to comment.

Both the intensive training the team members undergo and the tactical gear helped save King's life, Matchik said.

“It's probably a conjunction of everything,” he said.

State police emergency response team members are always on call, said Maj. Keith Stone, state police director of the bureau of emergency and special operations. Two teams,serving the eastern and western portions of the state, conduct about 220 operations every year for “incidents that extend what the normal patrol officer” trains for, Stone said.

Troopers who pass a three-day selection process that involves physical and mental tests go to basic training for up to a month, Stone said. Team members have additional training monthly and are assigned to stations around the state, he said.

They assist in incidents involving high-risk warrants, security details, surveillance, wooded area searches and barricaded gunmen, Stone said.

The team was called out after Latrobe police attempted to question Murphy about an armed robbery on Thursday afternoon at Precision Care Pharmacy, where several hundred OxyContin pills were taken. A witness gave police a license plate number that led them to Murphy's home.

When Murphy went upstairs after city police arrived at 7 p.m., officers heard “discernible sounds of a gun being loaded.” They told five family members in the home to leave and called state police for assistance.

During the night, negotiators talked to Murphy using a bullhorn and used other tactical measures to coax him to surrender, Matchik said. Power was shut off to the neighborhood, and some homes were evacuated.

An autopsy was conducted Friday evening, but the cause and manner of death are pending further investigation.

“It's still very much an active investigation,” Matchik said.

Coroner Ken Bacha said an inquest into the officer-involved shooting likely will be held.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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