Suspect dead in Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery homicide

Police direct traffic Friday on Del. 71 to Bethel Church Road just south of Summit Bridge Friday while two helicopters hover in the area. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

BEAR — An 85-year-old Maryland woman was killed and her 86-year-old husband was in critical condition Saturday after a shooting incident at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear Friday, which also left the 29-year-old male suspect from Middletown dead.

Delaware State Police were initially called to the scene at 2465 Chesapeake City Road at 10:13 a.m. and found the couple from Elkton, whose names have not been released, had both sustained gunshot wounds, spokesman Master Cpl. Michael Austin said. The wife was pronounced dead at the scene.

At approximately 11:08 a.m., officers on scene observed a male subject running into a wooded area, between the cemetery and Brennan Boulevard, in the development of Brennan Estates, police said. Officers immediately secured the area where the subject was observed.

At 12:08 p.m., an exchange of gunfire took place between officers on scene and the suspect in the wooded area. During this exchange no law enforcement officers were injured.

At approximately 4 p.m., officers made entry into the wooded area, where they located the suspect, who was confirmed to be deceased. They also observed that the suspect had sustained an apparent gunshot wound. It was undetermined Friday if the gunshot wound was self-inflicted or as a result of the earlier exchange with police.

Around 5:30 p.m., authorities announced the incident had been “resolved.” Police said the area was secure and no public safety threat existed.

According to the Delaware Department of State, a memorial service had taken place at the cemetery chapel just prior to the time of the incident. All participants in the service had left the cemetery and there were no other visitors on the cemetery grounds.

The Department of State said 12 employees were working at the cemetery at the time of the incident, all of whom sheltered in a building on site and were unharmed. Police safely released all employees from the cemetery at approximately 3:30 p.m.

“Today, a moment of tragedy shattered the peaceful atmosphere of the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. We are deeply sorry for the families and loved ones of the victims,” said Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “We are thankful for the quick thinking and actions of our cemetery staff and the Delaware State Police, and grateful that no one else was hurt in this dangerous situation.”

Nearby Brennan Estates neighborhood resident Susan Lebowitz said her family received an automated call to remain inside at around 10 a.m. Friday. Two more calls followed with orders to go into the basement and then stay away from windows.

Mrs. Lebowitz, with her husband and 9-year-old son, heard a volley of gunshots “all at once, a pause and then a lot more rounds fired.

“It was extremely loud and echoing throughout the neighborhood. It was extremely frightening,” she said.

For several hours, the family remained sheltered with windows, blinds and curtains shut, Mrs. Lebowitz said.

“My 9-year-old son was hiding under a desk in the living room crying. He was just stressing all day long and there was no distracting him from it. The whole experience was just very shocking to all of us.”

Also disturbing, Mrs. Lebowitz said, was “the sound of the helicopters circling and circling and circling.”

Mrs. Lebowitz said her family has lived in the neighborhood since 2009 and experienced no significant safety issues.

“Anything that’s happened has been isolated and we generally feel like we live in a very safe place,” she said.

Gov. John Carney, at the opening of his Friday afternoon press briefing on COVID-19, provided an update on the investigation and called it an “evolving situation in the vicinity of the Delaware Veterans Cemetery where there was a shooting earlier today.”

“It’s really sad news to think of that kind of an event in what is really a sacred ground, final resting place of the men and women who served our country so valiantly, our Delaware Veterans’ Cemetery,” Gov. Carney said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

At a media briefing at Lums Pond State Park Friday afternoon police said several law enforcement agencies were part of the response and that Brennan Estates was the only neighborhood affected by the shooting incident. Police told residents to shelter in place and others were temporarily evacuated to an undisclosed location.

At least one helicopter remained hovering in the vicinity of the shooting Friday around 3 p.m. and several roads were closed in the area.