UPDATE: I put an update with my reporting from Sunday night at the end of this entry. I also added an update with Monday’s reporting at the end.
I guess I’ll start with what I knew first. I was sitting on my porch last night a little after 3:30 a.m., when I heard sirens. Soon a car went flying up Bridge Street at a very high speed. Two or three seconds behind it were several police cruisers.
I could tell it was probably a chase because I very rarely hear police use their sirens that much at that hour. The cruisers who sped up Bridge Street never laid off their sirens for even a second.
This morning I learned police had chased a 21-year-old Dracut man from Lowell to Pelham, N.H., where the 21-year-old was fatally shot by multiple officers. That man, Alberto Pagan, was a security guard at Lowell General Hospital, and the father of a 4-year-old girl.
The story began in Lowell, where Deputy Superintendent Arthur Ryan tells me police got a 911 call reporting a man assaulting a woman at Andover and High streets about 3:30 a.m.
An officer went off at that location and found the alleged victim of the assault, but not her alleged attacker. The officer determined the incident was domestic in nature, and soon confronted Alberto Pagan, 21, of Dracut, at an undisclosed location in Lowell.
Pagan fled, according to Ryan. That is all Ryan could comment on.
That is when I heard the chase making its way up Route 38.
From there, Jeffrey Strelzin, senior assistant New Hampshire attorney general, tells us the chase continued on Route 38. Somewhere between Lowell and Pelham police used spiked sticks to flatten the tires on Pagan’s sedan. Pagan came to a stop on Route 38.
Strelzin said Pagan emerged from his car with a handgun, and remained on Route 38 for over and hour while police tried to convince him to drop his weapon and surrender.
“Police tried to negotiate with him to get him to surrender peacefully, but they were unsuccessful,” Strelzin said. “He ended up getting back into his car and drove off Route 38 onto Hobbs Road.”
The tires on Pagan’s sedan were shredded, so he wasn’t going very fast when an unmarked police cruiser on Hobbs Road rammed head-on into Pagan’s car to force the vehicle to stop in front of 14 Hobbs Road, Strelzin said.
Pagan emerged from his car still armed, then turned and walked toward a group of police from several departments who demanded that he drop the gun, according to Strelzin.
“He would not drop the handgun, and as he approached those officers, those officers fired, and they shot and killed him,” Strelzin said. “Several officers from several different agencies fired their weapons.”
Stelzin did not say whether Pagan raised or attempted to fire his gun. Ballistics evidence will determine for sure if Pagan fired, and which officers fired at Pagan, and which officers’ bullets struck Pagan. An autopsy being conducted on Sunday will determine Pagan’s cause of death.
LGH released a statement tonight saying Pagan was a security guard there for the past 2 1/2 years.
“We wish to extend our deepest condolences to Alberto’s family, many friends and co-workers,” the hospital said in a prepared statement.
Paul Jean, a hospital spokesman, said LGH security guards do not carry guns, and that Pagan would not have had the gun due to his job.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is investigating the death and the actions of the officers involved. Strelzin is leading the investigation, and he has been around for years and handled many other major investigations.
Deputy Ryan told me one officer from Lowell is on paid administrative leave pending the investigation into the death. That is standard procedure, not discipline. Such leave is also meant to help the officer recover from the emotional side of being forced to use that level of force.
In 10 years on this job, I still haven’t met a cop who’s ever wanted to shoot someone.
That is what I reported in Sunday’s paper. About 30 minutes after deadline, my efforts to reach Pagan’s family led his brother to call me.
About 45 minutes ago is when I learned Pagan was a father.
“He loved his daughter very very very very much,” Pagan’s brother told me.
Pagan grew up in Lowell, but he dropped out of Lowell High School so he could work to provide for his daughter. He later earned his GED.
Lately, Pagan had been working the overnight shift, 11 to 7 at LGH, and picking up extra shifts whenever he could.
“He was a very hard-working man,” his brother said. “When he had a daughter so young, he was all about making sure she was all set for her life.”
“He did everything for his daughter.”
Pagan’s brother and a friend who contacted me through Facebook both told me Pagan was funny. He was also a guy who would get calls from his friends when they needed someone, because they knew he would always be there to listen.
“He was always there when you needed a shoulder to cry on,” his brother said. “I miss him.”
Pagan loved football, and would go to his grandmother’s house most Sundays to have dinner, visit family, and watch some football games.
Pagan’s brother last spoke to Pagan Friday night about 6 p.m. Pagan had the night off.
“He was allright. I talked to him and he was good.”
Pagan had split up with his daughter’s mother recently, and that woman moved from their apartment and moved back in with her family. She and Pagan split time with their daughter.
Pagan’s extended family and friends had gathered together Saturday night. They’re upset police couldn’t have used less lethal means to take Pagan into custody, and upset about a report from a neighbor of the crime scene who contradicted the account of events released by police so far.
That neighbor told the family it appeared Pagan was moving away from police, not toward them, when he was shot. I have not been able to confirm that account, though I will certainly attempt to on Sunday.
“Why did they have to kill him when there’s so many other methods to put him down,” his brother asked me. “Today they have rubber bullets, they have Tasers, why did they have to shoot him when we heard he was running away?”
I don’t know if rubber bullets, Tasers or less than lethal force was an option, but I’ll be asking Strelzin about that next time I talk to him. Were those options available at the scene? Were they practical? Or could they just make Pagan shoot if they didn’t fully incapacitate him?
The family plans to setup a memorial for Pagan at the scene on Sunday. I’ve asked them for a picture of Pagan.
“He was a confused young kid who was drinking, upset, and didn’t know what to and they put a bullet in him,” said Pagan’s aunt, Marybeth Lebron.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is in charge of the investigation, and we’ll be checking with them on Sunday for any updates on the status of that. In all my experience on this job police have always hated it when they’re forced to use deadly force.
They also rarely have the benefit of knowing what someone’s personality is like when they’re confronted by a situation in which a guy with a gun could kill them. A lot of cops have daughter’s too.
Pagan had a criminal history, but from what I’ve found in our archives it was minor. Arrests for trespassing, underage drinking, and one count of domestic assault and battery. I have no idea if those charges led to convictions, though.
I’ll continue to report both sides of this story, and to say prayers not just for Pagan’s family and daughter, but for the officers who were involved as well.
For starters, I looked at some video of the press conference held by Stelzin and got pretty angry and confused. I didn’t attend the press conference, but apparently no one who attended it told me or reported that Strelzin said investigators are trying to determine if Pagan was suicidal.
“He made several statements,” Strelzin said at the press conference. “We’re looking into those, possibly some on Facebook as well, indicating that he intended to take his own life.’
I have no idea why that was omitted from our initial reporting. It’s one of the most interesting things Strelzin said.
I also talked to two law enforcement sources tonight who requested anonymity to talk about police procedures since they’re not authorized to discuss this incident. I called both to find out whether Tasers or rubber bullets could have been used.
Both agreed that neither weapon, nor any less than lethal weapon, could have been used here. To sum it up, less than lethal weapons aren’t meant to be used by police when police are facing a man with a handgun.
Both sources agreed that a Taser, since it’s electrical shock causes muscle spasms, could actually cause a person with a gun to shoot involuntarily. Think involuntary muscle spasms while your finger is on the trigger? Not only could that cost an officer his life, it could also kill a bystander or the person with the gun since no one knows where that bullet would go.
Tasers, rubber bullets, beanbag guns, and other less than lethal weapons are also not 100 percent effective, and do not totally incapacitate a person. If police shoot a guy who is holding a gun with a rubber bullet, it might hurt the guy with the gun, but it certainly would not prevent him from firing. Same with a beanbag gun.
Those types of weapons could also just anger the person with the gun and increase the odds that the person will shoot.
“When you’re confronted by a person with a handgun they can pull the trigger and kill you. Less than lethal devices are less than 100 percent effective, so the bottom line is that less than lethal force isn’t a replacement for a firearm,” said one of my sources.
I also got a chance to get to the scene tonight and to try to talk to residents. There appeared to be three houses within sight of the spot where the shooting took place, and residents of two of those houses declined to comment.
Leanna Dinsmore, who lives about 30 yards from the scene, was willing to talk, though. She told me she was awoken by the sound of police talking to Pagan through a megaphone or loudspeaker of some sort.
Dinsmore said she could not see what was happening in the darkness and because of trees around her property, but that she could clearly hear police trying to reason to Pagan. She said she listened for over an hour.
She was not sure how long police had negotiated with Pagan, since she awoke while those efforts were already in progress.
“He kept saying ‘I’m not afraid to die,’” Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore said officers talked to Pagan about his family, about his daughter, and told Pagan that he was not going to be in a lot of trouble for offenses he had committed so far.
“They said ‘you’re just a kid. You have a daughter,’ and they told him he wasn’t in much trouble yet,” Dinsmore said.
Eventually, Dinsmore said Pagan drove his car down Heath Street in front of her house and then stopped on a small portion of Hobbs Road that runs between Heath Street and Bridge Street.
She said she wasn’t scared for herself or her family because over a dozen police cruisers were on her street alone, not to mention even more cruisers on the other side of Pagan’s location.
Dinsmore heard police again speaking to Pagan before he apparently got out of his car.
She said she could not estimate how many gunshots she heard because they all sounded out at once.
“They all ran together,” she said.
“I really have to give police a lot of credit,” Dinsmore said. “They really tried for a different outcome.”
UPDATE #2: Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin told me today that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death is homicide, though it is important to note that homicide only means that another person was involved in the death. Homicide is a medical term, and not an indication of crime. Strelzin said many homicides are non-criminal.
He said that due to the number of interviews investigators need to conduct it will probably be two to three weeks before his office releases a preliminary report on their findings. He is not releasing anymore information until then.