‘I’m shot in the face': Police radio transmissions show chaos of deadly Pa. shooting
Within 30 minutes, Officer Sean Sluganski was killed, Officer Charles Thomas was shot in the face and the gunman was dead
By Megan Guza
MCKEESPORT, Pa. — McKeesport Officer Charles Thomas’ screams for help came loud and frenzied across the police radio, growing more desperate each time.
“Get me some help, I’m hit!”
“I’m shot in the face!”
“Get me some [expletive] help, get me some [expletive] help!”
“Officer down, officer down!”
In the confusion of the scene unfolding Monday on Grandview Avenue, it wasn’t immediately clear that Officer Thomas wasn’t the one mortally wounded.
The chilling and harrowing recordings archived by Broadcastify, an online source for thousands of live public safety audio feeds, show how quickly the call devolved into deadly violence. The Post-Gazette is not publishing recordings of the most graphic moments.
The chaos that ensued lasted only about 30 minutes. In that time, Officer Sean Sluganski was killed, Officer Thomas was shot in the face, and alleged gunman Johnathan Morris was also shot.
The recordings, though, feel like they go on for hours.
At 12:12 p.m., the officers are dispatched to a home on Wilson Street for a mother-son domestic dispute.
For roughly 10 minutes, the dispatches are run-of-the-mill — mundane, even. The dispatcher, a woman, relays that the man in question, later identified as Mr. Morris, is having a mental health crisis, according to his mother. The dispatcher says the mother told her Mr. Morris is ex-military and suffering from PTSD.
“There are guns but they are secure, per the caller on this,” the dispatcher tells Officers Sluganski and Thomas.
Both officers radio as they arrive, noting that Mr. Morris has already left the area around the Wilson Street home.
One of the officers — it’s unclear which one — asks the other if Mr. Morris’ mother said whether her son had a gun on him.
“He’s got his hands in his pockets,” the officer says.
“No, she said they’re all in the house,” comes the reply.
The officers and dispatcher sound calm. The dispatcher asks one of the officers if he’s “out with that male,” and the officer replies that he’s “trying to be,” but Mr. Morris keeps running.
Four minutes later, Officer Sluganski notes Mr. Morris’ hands again.
“Watch that right hand, that pocket’s real heavy,” he says.
Officer Thomas notes that Mr. Morris seems “out of his mind,” and radios that “this dude’s on the hood of my car.”
Moments later, Officer Thomas calls for help.
“I’m shot in the face, I’m shot in the face!” he screams, the panic and pain palpable in his voice.
The dispatcher, at first, is confused.
“Is that shots fired? Medics needed?” she asks.
“Get some help, I’m hit!” followed by, “officers down, officers down, get me some help!”
Officer Thomas calls out his call sign, 1114, and says again that he’s hit.
Units from elsewhere in Allegheny County begin to respond, telling dispatchers they are on their way.
Seconds pass like minutes, and Officer Thomas screams desperately for help. At one point he seems to call out that “Sluganski’s down.”
“Help is started,” the dispatcher assures him.
A third McKeesport officer arrives on scene. Someone calls out that more shots were fired, followed by another voice saying those shots came from the McKeesport officer.
“Suspect down,” that officer calls, giving the location as Patterson Street at Versailles Avenue.
Someone calls for more backup: “Any unit you can get, start it our way, please.”
It’s not until shortly after 1 p.m. that the dispatcher realizes two officers have been shot.
She calls for Officer Sluganski’s unit number twice: “Eleven-sixteen, county.” A pause. “Eleven-sixteen, county.”
Someone asks for medics. Someone else says to make way for an ambulance on Versailles.
The dispatcher asks the chief: “Can you confirm there’s only one officer down?”
“We have two officers down,” he responds.
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