Frank Witsil, Omar Abdel-Baqui– Detroit Free Press
A police standoff with a gunman on Detroit’s west side ended Wednesday morning after one hostage was released, the other escaped, and the 38-year-old suspect fatally shot himself when he ran out of drugs and came off a narcotic high.
The armed confrontation at a small, white-vinyl-sided home tucked among tall trees in a quiet neighborhood in the 15300 block of Iliad Street lasted more than 30 hours and involved at least 150 officers.
Police said the suspect, Thomas Curry — who had a swastika tattoo, called himself Crazy and claimed responsibility for killing three people earlier this year — was holed up inside his home with a pistol, shotgun and possibly a cache of weapons.
Throughout the standoff, Curry made threats to kill the hostages and himself, Detroit Police Assistant Chief David LeValley said. The remaining hostage escaped early Wednesday when Curry was sleeping.
That, LeValley said, was probably the turning point of the standoff.
At about 7:05 a.m., police moved toward the house using an armored vehicle to peek through a window. It ended up taking down one of the outside walls. Officers heard a sudden pop and crashed through the door.
Police said they found Curry’s body in the house.
“We could see the individual lying in the living room area,” LeValley said, adding that the pop was a gunshot. Inside the house, officers used a flashbang device to determine whether the suspect was sleeping, waiting to attack or dead. “At this point, our homicide detectives are going to continue to process the scene.”
LeValley said it would take several more hours to go through evidence at the home, which was still teeming just before noon with dozens of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers.
The gunman, LeValley added, told negotiators he knew he knew he was going to prison for the rest of his life. He decided to kill himself instead.
“Our goal for any situation like this is to take the individual into custody with no force,” LeValley said. “Our preference would have been that he walked out the door and surrendered.”
Harold Jackson, 56, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, gave police high marks Wednesday for how they handled the standoff, saying the “cops were on their A-game with this one.”
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LeValley added that detectives are certain, through their conversations with the suspect, that Curry had been responsible for a June 11 triple homicide and arson and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office sought an arrest warrant.
In the June slaying at a house in the 19100 block of Helen Street in Detroit, the Prosecutor’s Office said, three men — ages 34, 45 and 50 — were shot to death. The residence was set on fire, and the bodies burned.
Curry, who had been communicating with police by phone and had been publicly posting to Facebook under an alias, was high on narcotics, probably crystal meth, and drinking whiskey, police said.
Throughout the standoff, LeValley said, Curry would “go up and down,” suggesting if he got some cigarettes he would surrender peacefully and alternately becoming agitated and start yelling at the negotiators.
On Facebook, Curry went by the profile name Michael Heiliger, and wrote, among other things that: “The police are trying to kill me.” It was followed by a long string of comments from others, including pleas to surrender.
In another post, Curry suggested that there will be a book about his “crazy ass life and death” in Detroit as a biker. The page mentions two motorcycle clubs — the Scorpions and Highwaymen — and there is a prominent photo of a Nazi party flag.
There’s also a picture of someone in jeans and cowboy boots sleeping on the floor with a note that mentions the Detroit Scorpions M/C, the police standoff, and that “FENKEL BIKERS ARE THE CRAZIEST.”
Close neighbors said Wednesday that Curry’s swastika tattoo was on his neck and he made them feel uncomfortable. They said he worked for a lawn care company and wanted them to refer to him by his nickname, “Crazy.”
During the standoff, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said, the suspect told officers he has schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication.
Among the demands Curry had made, the chief said, was to see his ex-girlfriend, and she refused.
The first hostage was released Tuesday evening through negotiations with police but he had no intention of releasing the second hostage. Police said Curry released the first hostage, a woman, because he “couldn’t kill a female.”
Richard Nelson Sr., 66, of Detroit said a friend called him and told him his 44-year-old son, Richard Nelson Jr., was one of the hostages. The senior Nelson, who wore a Scorpions Motorcycle Club ball cap, said his son also liked to ride and was a Scorpion.
According to police, Nelson was someone Curry had known for only a couple of weeks.
The incident, authorities said, started at about 2:30 a.m., Tuesday when a man drove off in a GMC pickup truck from a traffic stop by Redford Township police. He later stopped the truck, ran from it, fired one shot at officers, broke into the home through a window, and took the two people who were inside as hostages.
Craig said Tuesday the situation was in hand with experienced officers and negotiators working toward a peaceful end, but the suspect likely knew it was the last few moments of freedom he had left.