Wheeling Police Held at Bay

SWAT Team Enters Home, Finds Elm Grove Man Dead

Photo by John McCabe Wheeling Police Department SWAT members return to the staging area after entering a home on Austin Avenue in Elm Grove where shots were reported fired this morning. The occupant of the home was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

WHEELING — At 6:30 a.m. today, an Austin Avenue woman called 911, informing the dispatcher that her husband was suicidal. Wheeling police arrived about 10 minutes later, and at about 6:45 a.m., with the wife out of the house, the man inside fired two shots — with one of them possibly being at police who were outside the home.

What officers didn’t know at the time is that the man took his own life with the second shot. Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said the man, who is not yet being identified, was in his 70s.

The responding officers retreated after the shots, and called for backup. That led to a more than three-hour wait as officers with the department’s crisis negotiation team attempted to contact the man inside the home, and Wheeling SWAT team members prepared for an entry. A Marshall County deputy also brought a drone to the scene, which he used to record the home’s perimeter as SWAT members mapped out their strategy.

At about 10 a.m., with the drone’s reconnaissance complete, six SWAT members made their way down Austin Avenue behind a shield. They entered the home through the garage, setting off a flash-bang grenade in the front yard as a distraction.

They exited within a few minutes after finding the man’s body.

Wheeling police spokesman Philip Stahl said officers initially believed the man had barricaded himself in his home, and a police source on scene said the wife informed officers that she didn’t believe her husband would take his own life.

Neighbors were warned and police and firefighters overtook the parking lot at the Kepner funeral home along Kruger street as a staging area. Austin Avenue was shut down during the incident.

Schwertfeger, speaking after the man was found, said detectives will be investigating the scene.

“My message would be that there’s a lot of help in the Ohio Valley for those who may be suffering from mental illness, depression, whatever the case may be,” he said. “If you have a loved one suffering, reach out, get that help. … We like happy endings, this is not one.”

The situation didn’t impact any nearby schools. Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller also was on scene, as Bridge Street Middle School students were being picked up along Kruger Street for classes. She said the situation did not affect the school day at Bridge Street, and that school resource officer Sgt. Don Miller was in contact with the scene to monitor the happenings.

Schwertfeger also thanked the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia State Police for helping with calls in the city during the morning.