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Three Pittsburgh officers killed in standoff in Stanton Heights

| Saturday, April 4, 2009

A heavily armed man who authorities say was lying in wait at his Stanton Heights home killed three Pittsburgh police officers and injured two others responding to a dispute this morning.

Police Chief Nate Harper this afternoon identified the dead officers as Stephen J. Mayhle, Eric G. Kelly and Paul J. Sciullo.

"It is truly a tragic and very sorrowful day," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. "A senseless and tragic random act of violence took place on what began as a beautiful spring morning. ... We will remember the three officers and the sacrifices they made."

Harper said Richard Poplawski, 22, shot Sciullo and Mayhle in their heads with an assault rifle as they approached the house. Kelly, a 14-year veteran of the force, responded to the call on his way home and was killed as he tried to assist the other officers, Harper said.

Officer Timothy McManaway, a 15-year veteran, was shot in the hand. Officer Brian Jones broke his leg.

Poplawski, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was wounded. Harper said he will be charged with three counts of homicide.

"It is a solemn and very sad day in the city of Pittsburgh," Harper said. "As we've seen this type of violence out in California, we never would think we'd see this type of violence in Pittsburgh."

Bishop David Zubik said he met and prayed with the families of two of the fallen officers early this afternoon. He plans to meet the third family after he attends a peace rally at Heinz Field.

"They're really in a state of shock," Zubik said of the officers' families.

"Coupled with what happened yesterday in Binghamton, it is a matter of people seeing that peace is more than a word," he said. "It's how we must live our lives."

An emergency dispatcher shortly after 1 p.m. broadcast a message over police radios instructing that all city flags be lowered to half staff "in honor of our deceased brothers." The dispatcher ended the message with "lest we forget."

Harper said the gunman was armed with an assault rifle, a regular rifle and plenty of ammunition. Police were called to the scene by Poplawski's mother shortly before 7 a.m. Harper said the suspect began firing from a window.

Hundreds of bullets were fired by Poplawski and police, Harper and neighbors said.

Poplawski surrendered about 11 a.m.

Edward Perkovic, a friend of Poplawski's from North Catholic High School, said Poplawski called him at Children's Hospital this morning, where Perkovic worked.

"He said, 'Eddie, I'm going to die today. Tell your family that I love them, and I love you.' Then I heard a bunch of gunshots," Perkovic said.

Perkovic and others who know the suspect said Poplawski was dismissed from U.S. Marine Corps recruit training in the past.

Perkovic said Poplawski had been involved in domestic disputes in the past. Harper would not confirm that police had been at the Fairfield Street home before.

City and state police, joined by Allegheny County sheriff's deputies, cordoned off several blocks surrounding the house.

"I was outside and I just heard 'pop pop pop pop pop ...'" said Mike Pace, 26, who lives two blocks away on Woodbine Street. "Crazy."

Staff writers Rick Wills, Jeremy Boren and Jill King Greenwood contributed to this report.

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