When a Nassau County, N.Y., police officer confronted a gunman holding Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello hostage in her home on Friday night, he was forced, in an instant, to make a life-or-death calculation: Open fire and risk hitting the hostage, or hesitate and risk losing the hostage and being killed himself, says the New York Times.The officer's decision to fire, killing the gunman along with the student, will be parsed as authorities investigate an episode that unfolded after the police interrupted a home invasion.
Enough details have emerged to paint a picture of a police operation that in the course of a few minutes spiraled out of control. Officers who arrived first on the scene believed they were confronting an armed robber but knew nothing about the hostages. That gap in knowledge was critical, experts said, possibly leading to missteps that inflamed an already dangerous situation and ultimately led to tragedy. Most critical, experts said, was the decision by the officer who ultimately opened fire to enter the home in the first place. That decision quite likely eliminated the opportunity to negotiate with the gunman, said Prof. Eugene O'Donnell of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a former New York City police officer. In any hostage crisis, he said, the first step for the police is to create a situation in which officers are in control.