Middletown community reacts to standoff

 

Displaced Brick Mill Farms residents wait at the Dove Run Shopping Center in Middletown on Thursday after a stand off with police closed the neighborhood on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MIDDLETOWN — Several dozen displaced neighbors milled around a shopping center parking lot under sunny skies and warming temperatures Thursday morning, waiting for the siege to end.

At around 11 a.m. — roughly 90 minutes after a barricaded suspect was fatally shot in a nearby standoff — roads opened again and it was finally time to go home.

For more than 20 hours, Brick Mill Farms neighborhood residents were evacuated as law enforcement officers attempted to apprehend a holed up man sought in connection with the shooting death of a Delaware State Police trooper at a Wawa in Bear on Wednesday.

Some families slept overnight in their cars at the Dove Run Shopping Center about a mile from their neighborhood, while others checked into a Hampton Inn with reduced rates or accommodations in Dover.

Residents returned to the shopping center on Thursday morning, hoping that an all clear sign would hasten their return home.

In the interim, they stood and sat together in groups of five or 10, consuming food and water provided by local businesses, conversing and talking on their cell phones.

L’Tanya Pierce-Thomas pulled up in a truck and unloaded cases of water because, as she explained: “Why not? They’ve been out her all night.

Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa, talks to displaced Brick Mill Farms residents, Brandon Low, left, and Dave and Bernice Struble at the Dove Run Shopping Center in Middletown on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“They’re our neighbors, my daughter has friends who live there.”

The night before, the Shannon Cove resident traveled to the shopping center to learn what the residents needed and returned with toothpaste and mouthwash she purchased.

The American Red Cross Delmarva Chapter established an emergency shelter at the Odessa Fire Company, which eight residents, including a school-age child, used on Wednesday night. New Castle County delivered 100 cots, while local fire companies provided more.

On Thursday morning, Red Cross Delmarva served breakfast to 12, including breakfast sandwiches, coffee, juice and water provided by local businesses. The nonprofit was prepared to serve lunch, but that meal wasn’t needed.

“The residents were very appreciative,” Executive Director Theresa Young said. “They understand we’ve lost one of our own, we’ve lost an officer. They understand and are making the best of the situation.”

The Red Cross provided comfort kits that included tissues, hand soap, shaving gel, mild shampoo, deodorant, lotion, razor, plastic comb, washcloth, toothbrush and toothpaste. Six staff members assisted the efforts, the majority of volunteers.

A military helicopter takes off from Brick Mill Farms in Middletown on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It is an amazing thing to see a community pull together as we experienced in this event,” Ms. Young said. “ … We could not thank the community enough for embracing our Red Cross volunteers in helping our residents in need.”

Wherever they stayed, the entire situation was unthinkable for residents accustomed to a quiet existence in an upscale neighborhood in east Middletown.

“You see these things happen elsewhere on television, like natural disasters, but can’t explain what it feels like until it happens to you,” Brendon Low said.

“It’s hard on you and you feel for the trooper’s family, it’s just a very unsettling situation.”

The incident was national news — Brick Mill Farms resident Tracy Novack heard of the ongoing siege from her sister in Seattle, Washington.

“She called to ask me if I was doing OK and I hadn’t even heard about it yet,” Ms. Novack said.

Sudden evacuation

Pam Politza and her 19-year-old daughter walked out of the neighborhood down Brick Mill Road after sudden evacuation by law enforcement officers on Wednesday.

The family lives within 50 yards of the barricaded home, and heard a string of “pop, pop, pops” from gun fire around 1:30 p.m.

“At first, I thought it was someone banging loudly on our window for some reason,” Mrs. Politza said.

She looked out and saw a stream of police cars forming around the home in the 500 block of St. Michaels Drive and took a picture from a second-floor window.

When a safety officer arrived at the back door to usher the mother and daughter away from harm, they didn’t have time to put on their shoes and left barefoot.

“We just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible,” Mrs. Politza said.

The next day, Mrs. Politza was worried about her dog that had been left behind, but more concerned that “no more police officers get injured.”

Mrs. Politza met her husband at the shopping center as he rushed home for work. The family slept together in their vehicle overnight.

Mr. Politza said he knew deceased suspect Burgon Sealy Jr., 26, enough to wave and say “Hi” when they were out.

“I never had any problems with him,” he said.

Another nearby resident, Scott Nester, who lives across from the neighborhood on Marl Pit Road said his son had cut across the Sealy’s yard to the Parkside neighborhood to play with friends and described the late man as “kind of odd.”

After living 18 years in Brick Mill Farms, Mr. Politza couldn’t believe it had grabbed the attention of newscasts nationwide.

“Our development has always been very quiet,” he said.

Part of the news

As she sat in her vehicle in the parking lot, Debbie Satta, a 19-year Brick Mill Farms resident, said the situation had to be “upsetting for the trooper’s family, terribly sad for their loss of life.

Like many others, Mrs. Satta was still shaken and described the scene as “surreal. It’s something that you see on television but never think you’ll be a part of it.”

According to Mrs. Satta, a neighbor described hearing approximately seven explosions around 3:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday.

State Rep. Kevin Hensley stopped at the shopping center both days during the standoff, and offered constituents the opportunity to take showers at his home. A couple did accept the offer, but opted not to stay overnight as the legislator also offered.

“I’m just here to do whatever I can to bring some comfort to their lives,” Rep. Hensley said.

Describing the Brick Mill Farms development as “living on auto-pilot” the representative said “I never have any issues to address here, which makes it all the more surprising that we’re all here today going through this.”

After the siege ended, both Gov. John Carney and Delaware State Police Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen saluted Brick Mill Farms residents for their “patience and support” who “suffered through this terrible ordeal in their own neighborhood.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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