Four members of the New York City Police Department's elite Emergency Service Unit (ESU) were shot and wounded after being locked into a brutal life-or-death gun battle against a heavily armed ex-convict who had barricaded himself and taken his pregnant girlfriend and their infant son hostage at their apartment in Sheepshead Bay, a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The heavily armed hostage-taker, Nakwon Foxworth, 33, was left in critical condition by ESU officers during the shootout.
The chaos began at around 10:30 p.m. this past Sunday night when according to police, Foxworth, his girlfriend Jessica Hickling and their four-month old son, arrived home at their apartment building on 3301 Nostrand Avenue to find the entrance to the building blocked with furniture by two men who were moving a woman into a fifth-floor apartment in the building.
Frustrated at being unable to enter the building, Foxworth began to argue loudly with the two furniture movers. At some point during the argument, Foxworth pulled a 9-mm Browning handgun and threatened the two men with it.
Frightened by his violent behavior, Hickling informed Foxworth that she did not want to go home with him to their apartment and was going to take their infant son and spend the night somewhere else.
The agitated Foxworth reportedly grabbed Hickling and told her that she was not going anywhere as he forced her, with baby in tow, into the building and upstairs to their sixth-floor apartment.
Meanwhile, the two movers called 9-1-1 and told police about their frightening close encounter with the armed and irate Foxworth.
According to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, patrol officers responded to the location and enlisted the assistance of the building superintendent and CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television) camera footage to determine Foxworth lived in apartment 6-K.
Patrol officers made their way upstairs to the apartment. When they received no response they looked through a peephole on the apartment door and saw Foxworth holding the woman and infant at gunpoint.
At that point the patrol officers realized that they had a hostage-barricade incident on their hands, a specialized and sensitive affair beyond their resources and capabilities. The officers backed away from the apartment and called for back-up while informing police dispatchers that a hostage situation was in progress.
The revelation of a hostage-barricade incident triggered a massive NYPD response that saw dozens of police vehicles and hundreds of officers descend upon the location. Helicopters hovered overhead and streets near the apartment building were blocked-off to pedestrian and vehicular traffic by the NYPD.
The neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay resembled an urban war zone as the NYPD responded in force, the illumination of the area by the flashing lights of dozens of police vehicles and ambulances providing a rather stark and dynamic contrast against the jet-black night environment.
The Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) and the Emergency Service Unit (ESU) were also notified of the crisis and promptly responded.
ESU is the NYPD's version of a Special Weapons And Tactics or SWAT team. The elite police team is a key counter-terrorism resource and makes up the bulk of the NYPD's "Hercules
" initiative which dispatches ESU officers at random to high-profile and sensitive locations throughout the city (especially in Manhattan) in full tactical gear with high-powered weaponry.
A popular motto of the unit is: "When the public needs help they call a cop, but when a cop needs help he or she calls ESU."
Police on the scene were settling in for a long late-night standoff as hostage negotiators prepared to communicate with Foxworth and ESU officers began putting on heavy body armor and helmets while checking their high-powered automatic weapons outside of apartment 6-K.
At 12:30 a.m., early Monday morning, Hickling suddenly came running out of the apartment with the baby in her arms. According to commissioner Kelly, she told officers that Foxworth had been holding her hostage.
As Hickling was led away to safety by negotiators, a six-man ESU team began to make entry into apartment 6-K.
As they entered, Foxworth immediately emerged from a bedroom, firing his 9-mm semiautomatic Browning handgun at the ESU team.
During the do-or-die gunfight, four ESU officers were wounded by gunfire. The officers returned fire and hit Foxworth twice in the stomach, ending the hellacious gun battle.
Hickling and her infant son were not harmed during the hostage crisis.
Local Cop A Hero; Hostage-Taker's Violent Past
The four ESU officers were rushed to Brooklyn's Lutheran Hospital with injuries that were serious but not life-threatening.
Detective Kenneth Ayala, emerged as the hero of this incident. He is credited with saving the lives of his ESU colleagues.
Ayala was the group's "bunker" or shield man in the assault on Foxworth's dwelling. The job of the officer assigned the "bunker" position is to hold a large Kevlar body shield ballistic shield that weighs about 15-pounds and protect the rest of the entry team from gunfire. Because the "bunker" man is the first officer to go through the door during a tactical operation, he has the most dangerous assignment of anyone on the team.
Ayala, despite being shot twice during the gunfight, is credited with hanging on to the group's "bunker" to protect the five other officers with him, even as he was wounded and taking gunfire.
The ESU colleagues of Ayala described his actions as "heroic" and "superhuman."
In comments to the New York Post
, Detective Michael Keenan, an ESU officer also wounded in the shootout against Foxworth, was quoted as having said
I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for [Ayala].
Another police source said of Ayala,
He definitely saved their lives.
The source went on to say,
It was a superhuman effort. He was shot twice, he held on to the bunker...and then he was able to empty one gun and fired a second gun.
Ayala reportedly waved off the praise and repeatedly insisted that he was not a hero and that it was a team effort.
The ESU officers wounded during the gun battle are as follows:
Detective Kenneth Ayala, 49
18-year NYPD veteran
Assigned to ESU Squad Six
Hospitalized in Stable Condition
Shot Twice: Once in the thigh and once in the left ankle
Police Officer Matthew Granahan, 35
11-year NYPD veteran
Assigned to ESU Squad Seven
Shot once in the calf
Treated and released
Detective Michael Keenan, 52
Decorated (Medal of Valor) 28-year veteran
Assigned to ESU Squad Six
Shot once in the calf
Keenan received his medal of valor 15 years ago as one of the officers of an ESU team that raided a Brooklyn apartment and engaged in a shoot-out against two men who were Palestinian militants
that were mere hours away from carrying out rush hour suicide bombings at the Atlantic Avenue train station, a massive transit hub located in Downtown Brooklyn. Some Israeli news media sources revealed that the men were linked to the Hamas terrorist organization. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at that time said that the information from those news agencies could not be independently verified. The FBI further allayed the public's fears when it held a press conference and said that the attempted bombing was not apart of a larger conspiracy.
Captain Al Pizzano, 45
Suffered graze wound to the face
Treated and released
Commissioner Kelly revealed that the gunfight occurred in close-quarters with the shooter and the officers no more than 10 feet apart.
Foxworth reportedly fired 12 rounds while police fired around two dozen.
Though all four officers were hospitalized, Captain Pizzano and officer Granahan were treated for their injuries and released within a few hours while detectives Keenan and Ayala were released later that Monday afternoon.
All four are currently recovering at home.
Foxworth was transported to Brooklyn's Kings County Hospital after the shootout where he currently remains as a patient listed in critical but stable condition.
According to the New York Daily News
, records released by the NYPD reveal that Foxworth was let out of prison just two years ago after serving 10 years for robbery, attempted murder and selling drugs in prison. He also served two years for another attempted murder conviction at age 15.
In an interview with the NY Daily News
, the shooter's sister Tyona Foxworth said he worked as a carpenter. She spoke favorably of her brother,
He's a wonderful person and a great uncle.
Nakwon Foxworth has been charged with attempted murder, assault on a police officer, criminal possession of a weapon and menacing.
Armor-Piercing Rifle Discovered Amidst Weapons Cache; ESU Team 'Lucky'
Detectives discovered a small but lethal arsenal inside of Foxworth's apartment.
Hickling, Foxworth's girlfriend, would later tell authorities that as police amassed around their apartment building and neighborhood in response to the hostage crisis, the violent ex-convict spent the night loading all of his guns with ammunition in preparation for the inevitable violent encounter with the NYPD.
Besides the 9-mm Browning Foxworth used in his bloody battle against ESU officers, investigators uncovered a 22-caliber revolver and an assault rifle.
The NY Daily News
reports that the discovery of the assault rifle was a very disturbing revelation for the NYPD.
The Ruger Mini-14 rifle uncovered by police in the apartment was sawed-off and equipped with a sniper scope.
Most chilling of all is the fact that the magazine in the rifle was fully loaded with armor-piercing ammunition. Investigators have reportedly found as many as 50 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition in Foxworth's dwelling.
According to NYPD chief spokesperson Paul Browne and police sources, if Foxworth had decided instead to use the Mini-14 with the armor-piercing ammunition as his initial weapon of choice to engage the ESU team in combat rather than the 9-mm handgun, the ending would have almost certainly been far darker for ESU and the NYPD.
Those same sources say, the armor-piercing ammunition would have easily penetrated the ballistic helmets and heavy body armor as well as the ballistic shield or "bunker," Detective Ayala used to defend the team against Foxworth's relentless 9-mm barrage.
Foxworth actually made an effort to obtain the rifle during his firefight against the ESU team. After being shot and critically wounded by ESU he reportedly stumbled into a bedroom to retrieve the assault rifle but never got to it.
NYPD officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself have publicly said that the ESU team was "lucky" and that a tragedy for the police department was averted.
Investigators revealed that they traced the 9-mm Browning that Foxworth used to shoot the officers to a gunstore in Wilmington, North Carolina, The assault rifle was stolen from somewhere in the state of Florida before arriving in New York. The revolver however, was so badly defaced that police are currently having difficulty tracing it.
The Mini-14 is commonly referred to as a “poor man’s assault rifle." And though less popular than it was decades ago, has long been a mainstay in the armories of numerous American law enforcement and military organizations. The U.S. Navy SEALs occasionally utilize the weapon while ESU itself has actually kept the simple yet highly-efficient weapon as apart of it's tactical arsenal for decades.
The same ammunition used for the Mini-14 can reportedly be used for the M-4 and M-16 rifles.
While armor-piercing ammunition is generally illegal to own, the Mini-14 is legal for ownership by private citizens in many American states provided they are at least 18-years of age and have no felony convictions.
Foxworth, a convicted felon, would have been prohibited by federal law from owning the Mini-14 or any of the other firearms uncovered in his apartment.
The NYPD reports that the past five months have seen an unprecedented level of violence against it's officers with the year of 2012 already one of the bloodiest on record. Since this past December, the NYPD reports that eight of it's officers have been shot, including the four officers wounded in the shootout this past Monday. Officer Peter Figoski was shot and killed this past December while interrupting a home invasion robbery. In that incident the offender was also an ex-convict with a violent record.