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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Special tactics officers end a search in the 4100 block of Richfield Lane during Wednesday’s standoff.

Making the right call

For hours, the situation looked bleak, a family’s worst nightmare.

An armed man comes into a home not long after gunning down a woman he forced off a bus. Police arrive, some people in the house scurry to safety, and the gunman is left with a 3-year-old hostage.

The gunman surely knew that police were aware he had just killed a woman on a city street. Facing a likely sentence for murder, he had nothing to lose.

Police emergency operations team officers have rehearsed such a scenario countless times. They established telephone communications with the gunman, Kenneth Knight. He was allowed to talk with family members and his pastor.

But, apparently, talks stopped progressing.

Police commanders on the scene were faced with a choice that, for most of us, would cause a lifetime of second-guessing. Do police try to wait out the gunman, possibly ending the hostage situation but potentially continuing the 3-year-old boy’s endangerment? Or do police make the conscious decision to end the life of a killer to save an innocent boy?

The decision had to be made in an atmosphere of escalating violence in the neighborhoods surrounding the hostage standoff in southeast Fort Wayne.

Some residents want police to do more to make their neighborhood safer. Some residents have a deep distrust of police, one that runs so high they hesitate or outright refuse to help police. Many are afraid – afraid of being a crime victim, afraid of retaliation if they talk to police, perhaps even afraid of police.

But the commanders on the scene can’t be distracted by such considerations. Their No. 1 priority is clear: How do they get that boy out alive?

When the decision came, it was immediately clear how well-trained the SWAT officers are. Two police snipers fired simultaneously, so in sync that to onlookers it sounded like one shot.

There is no joy in the fact that police killed a killer. In almost any other circumstance, Knight should have been judged in a court of law.

But, as a somber Police Chief Rusty York told reporters after police successfully accomplished their top priority, Knight made the decision to put himself in that situation, to selfishly use a young boy to keep police at bay. No one wanted a man to die, but that was the choice he gave police.

In coming days and weeks, the community will and should discuss ways to quell violence in crime-prone neighborhoods. The police officers’ actions on Wednesday will be officially reviewed. Two families will bury loved ones: Those of Jacqueline Bouvier Hardy, the woman Knight forced off the bus and killed on the street, and of Knight.

Amid the city’s angst, today a grandmother holds her 3-year-old boy because police officers did their jobs.