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‘Bullets, hundreds of them’: Suspect fired for hours at police in Upper Darby, according to testimony

A judge's gavel. (Dreamstime/TNS)
September 03, 2023

An Upper Darby man who allegedly held police at bay for hours during a violent standoff at an apartment complex in June was held for Common Pleas Court on Tuesday on all charges following a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Kelly A. Micozzie-Aguirre.

Kelvin Awo, 26, of the 100 block of Blackburn Avenue, is charged with 12 counts each of attempted murder, assault of a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault, as well as nine counts of reckless endangerment, two counts of terroristic threats and one count each of risking a catastrophe, discharge of a firearm into an occupied structure and possessing an instrument of crime with intent.

Awo was originally charged with nine counts of attempted murder, assaulting an officer and aggravated assault, but Assistant District Attorney Jason Harmon added three counts to each charge during the hearing.

Confrontation brewing

Awo was arrested more than eight hours after barricading himself inside an apartment at Lansdowne Towers on the 700 block of Providence Road throughout the morning on June 3.

Officers testifying Tuesday described a harrowing period in the interim where Awo randomly shot out of apartment windows toward them several times.

An upstairs neighbor said Awo had been living at the address for about 10 months prior and that she only had “never positive, usually threatening” interactions with him during that time.

An affidavit for Awo’s arrest written by Upper Darby Police Detective Kevin Gamber indicates the leaseholder for the downstairs apartment had moved out about a month before the standoff, leaving Awo as the only resident in that section of the apartment complex at the time.

The neighbor said Tuesday that Awo’s apartment had been “very noisy” in the two days before the confrontation. She told defense attorney Kevin Horan that it sounded like demolition work was being done with pipes being pulled out of the wall.

At about 1:30 a.m. June 3, she said she heard banging in the hallway of the building and found Awo outside his apartment smacking a vacuum cleaner against a shared wall.

“He said we wanted a show, we were going to get a show,” the neighbor said. “…He said, ‘You want me out of here, I’m going to light it up. I got plenty of ammunition, I’m going to burn it up.’ “

Awo then said something about fireworks and began lighting them off, according to the neighbor.

She called 911 and advised arriving officers to be cautious, then buzzed them into the front door. The neighbor said officers attempted to gain entry to Awo’s apartment, then returned to her about two minutes later and evacuated her family.

Standing outside for the duration of the standoff, she said she heard a flashbang grenade for the first time in her life, as well as “bullets, hundreds of them.”

Officers on scene

Micozzie-Aguirre also heard from four Upper Darby police officers involved in the standoff: Matthew Bruder, Robert Scott, William Redheffer and Weston Menzie.

Bruder, one of the first on scene with Scott and Redheffer, provided an overview of the entire incident.

He said police arrived about 1:35 a.m. and were unable to gain access to Awo’s apartment. The defendant was calling out from the other said of the door, “I’m going to die. You’re going to kill me. I’m going to burn this mothereffer down,” according to Bruder.

Bruder said that he could hear things being stacked against the door as Awo talked. After Awo made the same statements to a negotiator brought to the scene, police attempted to breach the door with a heavy ramming device, but Bruder said that only put a hole in the flimsy inner door.

It was enough for Officer Mazan Malak to call out that he saw movement inside, however, just as the first volley of shots was fired inside the apartment, Bruder said.

The officers fell back, but Malan and Officer Kevin Donahue were forced upstairs as the others left the building and another volley of shots was fired, about 12 to 14 in all, according to Bruder.

Redheffer said he attempted to let Malak and Donahue know via radio that he was throwing a flashbang in the hallway to try to cover their escape, but he later learned they could not hear him. Redheffer said he then noticed both officers were in the upstairs apartment.

He said he had Sgt. Jeffrey Thrash get a ladder truck from the fire department, which was used to rescue Malak and Donahue while emergency vehicles played their sirens to cover the noise of their moving around upstairs from Awo. Both officers escaped safely via the truck and a ground ladder.

Bruder said he also smashed out a window in the rear of the apartment with a pole so that another officer could toss in a gas grenade, but was immediately fired upon and had to retreat to an armored vehicle. At that point, he said officers decided to start firing gas canisters into the apartment, resulting in a “back-and-forth” of officers firing the canisters and Awo firing back with bullets.

Getting shot at

Redheffer said he was posted up behind a tree with direct line of sight on the apartment door. A sniper was stationed at his feet and Thrash was about 10 or 15 feet away behind a police car. Redheffer said he was able to recognize the hypersonic “snap!” of bullets whizzing by his face from his military service.

Though he told Horan he was unable to see the actual path of the bullets, Redheffer said, “I would say it’s a safe guess that they were being fired at us.”

At some point, Redheffer said Awo began throwing objects including a rifle and “literally the kitchen sink” in chunks of porcelain from the apartment windows. He also allegedly set off fireworks and set a fire inside the apartment, though Redheffer said he was unsure if the fire was intentional.

Scott said he grabbed a rifle from his vehicle, and was taking cover behind a tree and a police car for about an hour after first contact. He described Awo firing on SWAT members who had been called in throughout the incident.

Though Scott did not see Awo being removed from the apartment at the conclusion of the standoff, he said Awo was led by him on the way to a police cruiser and appeared to be pulling away from police in an agitated and irate state.

Menzie said he had taken up a position at three evacuated homes on Penn Pines Boulevard. He said he was with Media Police Officer Jonathan Joseph on the porch of the second of these homes when a bullet struck the grill he was hiding behind near his head.

They moved inside a screened-in area and then on to the third home as “numerous” bullets continued striking the buildings, he said, though he could not give a specific number.

Destroyed flat, stove on

Police meanwhile continued to attempt entry or establish communication between 2:28 and 9:49 a.m., but negotiations broke down and officers were pushed back from the door by gunfire each time, according to the affidavit. A drone and tactical robot were also deployed during the standoff.

Awo was finally taken into custody inside the apartment at 9:49 a.m. after resisting arrest, the affidavit reads. He was determined to be the only occupant and was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center for evaluation.

Gamber testified that he entered the apartment after the standoff and found it was completely destroyed, with extensive fire damage inside.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It was ripped down to the studs. There was fire damage, there was debris everywhere.”

Gamber said he found several holes in the wall next to the front door where bullets had been stopped by a firewall. If that firewall was not there, he said, those bullets would have passed through and likely struck the officers who first tried to enter the apartment.

Gamber said there was also an odor of natural gas and that the gas line had to be shut off before detectives could finish processing the scene. Apartment maintenance found a gas stove had been intentionally set to “high,” according to the affidavit.

Gamber said in the affidavit that he contacted the apartment complex manager, who reported that the person on the lease for that apartment had allowed Awo to live there without prior authorization.

The Upper Darby internal reporting system showed there had been a tenant/landlord dispute in December and that Lansdowne Towers would not be renewing the lease, according to the affidavit. The manager told Gamber that the tenant was supposed to be out by the end of June.

Wrapping up

Horan argued at the conclusion of the hearing that the commonwealth had failed to make out the specific intent to kill for its attempted murder charges. He said if Awo was trying to kill the first arriving officers, he would have fired into the door rather than the wall.

Harmon countered that Awo likely did not know the firewall that prevented those first shots going through the wall was there, however, and that it made sense that he would try to fire from off to the side of the door rather than from directly in front of it, where police could return fire.

Harmon also pointed to the sheer number of shots fired and added that Awo’s alleged statements that “You’re going to have to kill me,” or words to that effect, indicated he was not going to go willingly.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy M. Bernhardt previously told the Daily Times that Awo was suffering from a mental health crisis. He commended the approximately 100 emergency service personnel who arrived to assist during the standoff and ensure no one was hurt.

“We had every officer working in Upper Darby Township,” Bernhardt said then. “We had surrounding agencies as well as our emergency services unit and the county services unit. These patrolmen are to be commended and everyone that was here: the EMS, the fire department.”

Awo remains in custody at the county jail in Concord in lieu of $1 million cash bail. He is scheduled for formal arraignment Sept. 27 at the county courthouse in Media.


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