Suspect dead after hours-long gunfight with police during Pittsburgh eviction attempt
“We did give him every opportunity to surrender,” Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Larry Scirotto said
By Theresa Braine
New York Daily News
PITTSBURGH — An attempt to serve an eviction notice in Pittsburgh Wednesday escalated into a gunfight with police that had neighbors evacuating or sheltering in their basements as “hundreds of rounds” were fired, authorities and witnesses said.
After more than five hours, at around 5 p.m., police confirmed that the suspect, 63-year-old William Hardison Sr., was dead. No one else was seriously injured.
Three hours into the shootout, shots could still be heard as hundreds of rounds rang out in an almost continuous stream. One block in the city’s Garfield neighborhood was locked down, with cops trying to evacuate residents as bullets flew.
Gunfire could be heard as late as 3:50 p.m. as Hardison remained barricaded inside the home his brother lived in before his death a year or two earlier, sources told KDKA-TV.
Just after 4 p.m., a drone sent in through the window of the home located Hardison, motionless, with blood visible, the station reported. Police sent in a robot to investigate and found his body.
Sheriff’s deputies had arrived around 11:30 a.m. to evict Hardison, forewarned that it could be a volatile situation.
In a briefing after the incident, Sheriff Kevin Kraus told reporters seven deputies clad in body armor arrived to serve the eviction notice. When Hardison did not open the door, they used a battering ram after attempting to kick it in. They were met by a torrent of gunfire.
“We certainly didn’t expect this,” Kraus said. “We had no information that this individual was this dangerous or that there were firearms in the house.”
Deputies dove for cover and called for help as they returned fire. The department issued a warning, telling the public to avoid the area.
For adjacent residents, the sound of gunfire was all the advisory they needed. In one video posted to social media at 11:33 a.m., the rounds sounded like popcorn popping.
Neighbors described hitting the floor in their living rooms or struggling to get to their basements as bullets pierced their windows.
Leslie Thompson, who lives across the street, spent two hours in her basement before she could be evacuated.
“Shots were just everywhere,” she told KDKA, describing “a barrage of bullets” flying through the windows and walls into the living room and bathroom. “Glass was shattered everywhere.”
The gunman also shot down at least two police drones, KDKA and other outlets reported.
Officials said the standoff lasted hours because police wanted it to end differently.
“We did give him every opportunity to surrender,” Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Larry Scirotto said. “We provided ample opportunity for peaceful surrender.”
The neighborhood where the shooting took place is typically quiet, residents told local media. It’s near Allegheny Cemetery, the Children’s Hospital and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center..
Neighbors and friends were shocked by the actions of what one longtime acquaintance described as a “teddy bear” of a man, a jokester who loved to make people laugh.
“He’s a family guy, his brother just passed away,” one neighbor told KDKA of Hardison. “I feel like this is just out of character for him.”
Throughout the day, relatives told reporters that they had tried to get the police to allow them to talk to Hardison but that authorities refused, telling them it wasn’t safe.
Some who knew the neighborhood and its occupants located Hardison’s Facebook page and filled the comments of his last post, from nine hours earlier, with entreaties for him to give himself up. Strangers chimed in as well, expressing sympathy with what must have been Hardison’s state of mind.
No one wanted Hardison to die.
According to property documents dug up by local media, Hardison’s brother was on the home’s deed. Following his death, the house was owned by Hardison’s father, who sold it to a real estate company earlier this year, WPXI-TV reported. Those who knew him said Hardison refused to believe in the sale and had been living there, essentially squatting, paying utilities but not taxes.
State police have taken over the investigation, authorities said, noting that it would be hours before people were able to get back into their homes.
Mayor Ed Gainey promised support to the traumatized neighborhood.
“Pittsburgh — I ask for you to join us in prayer tonight for the entire community of Garfield, a peaceful neighborhood that was home to an unfortunate tragedy today,” he said in a statement. “As a city, we are committed to caring for all those who have been harmed, and we will continue working over the next several days to connect this neighborhood to mental health and trauma support services.”