Editor's Note: The following story contains details regarding a response to a shooting that occurred at Babcock Village on Dec. 19. It contains graphic information that some readers may find disturbing.
WESTERLY — The emergency call that dispatchers received on Dec. 19, reporting that several people had been shot at the Babcock Village Apartments, triggered an active shooter response that lasted 2 hours and 55 minutes, ending when personnel with the Westerly Ambulance Corps formally declared gunman Joseph Giachello dead at 1:27 p.m.
A Westerly police analysis prepared in advance of a departmental debriefing last week provided new details about the incident and the investigation into the shooting. Giachello, 66, a resident, opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver at the Cross Street building, killing office manager Julie Cardinal and injuring facility manager Robin Moss and another resident, Donna Thornley.
"It was a complicated response that involved numerous agencies from Rhode Island and Connecticut," Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said in an interview last week. "There were 11 agencies involved in the active shooter response itself and numerous others who offered their support and services once the danger was determined to be cleared, as we remained on scene until 2 a.m."
Thirty-six members of the Westerly Police Department were involved in the initial response, more than half of the 65-member department. They included 30 officers, including the chief, a 10-member tactical team, and six dispatchers. The department was aided by an eight-member tactical team from Ledyard and a 10-member tactical team with the Rhode Island State Police.
In all, more than 100 first responders were involved. Assistance came from the Stonington, Hopkinton, Charlestown and Groton City police departments, the Westerly Fire Department, the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal's Office, the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office, and the Westerly Public Works Department. Agencies including the FBI, ATF, Commerce Department and Providence Canteen later assisted on scene once it was determined there was no longer a threat.
According to the lengthy police report, surveillance video showed Giachello leave an elevator at the first-floor lobby just before 10:30 a.m. and walk to the office.
"No words were exchanged. He entered the office area and shot the first victim (Moss), who fell to the ground. He then walked over to her body and fired two more shots," Lacey said.
Giachello then fired at Cardinal, hitting her as she was sprinting out the door. She fell to the ground and Giachello fired a second shot that police believe was intended for Cardinal; it struck Thornley in the face.
Video then showed Giachello return to the lobby elevator and wait emotionless for the elevator to arrive. The doors opened with a man inside, and the police said Giachello grabbed and pulled him from the cabin, then got in and returned to the third floor. Cameras captured his movement as he returned to his room, C305. It was the last time Giachello was seen on video.
His body was later discovered in the apartment with the revolver on the floor beside him. He was sitting in a chair with his head down. An autopsy determined he had died as a result of a single gunshot wound to the chest. A note was found nearby.
“It was a very brief note in which he directly apologized for the mess he had made,” Lacey said. “He insinuated in the note that when a man can no longer do what he’d like in his own room, it’s time to move on.”
Lacey said the entire incident, including his return to his room, lasted less than 10 minutes.
Securing the threat
According to police records, dispatchers were alerted at 10:32 a.m. in a frantic call that reported multiple people had been shot. Dispatchers immediately called for all units to respond, and the first officer arrived in under two minutes.
Within the first 30 minutes, responding officers and tactical teams had secured the office and lobby area, clearing the ambulance crew to help the victims.
Police said Cardinal, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene. Thornley, 66, was conscious but in shock, the police said, and unable to provide any information. Moss, 38, was "in and out of consciousness" and supplied police with a possible ID for the suspect — a man who was quickly located and held as the search continued.
"She was attempting to help and provided a name based on the brief look she had got," Lacey said. "The man identified was a resident who was similar in appearance (to Giachello), and was held but later released once it was determined he was not involved."
The surviving victims were taken by ambulance to area hospitals for further treatment.
Meanwhile, tactical teams began the painstaking job of trying to clear and shelter in place the more than 200 residents of the three-story, 153-room facility, and outside agencies aided in securing other facilities in town. Babcock Village has four wings, or blocks, and Lacey said that officers went room to room and told residents to stay inside and lock their doors.
Groton City police officers were assigned to every Westerly school — the high school remained staffed by a town school resource officer, but a Groton officer was needed at Westerly Middle School to allow the SRO there to respond with the tactical team — and Westerly firefighters secured the roads surrounding the facility.
Police administrators contacted a custodian to gain access to the apartment building's closed-circuit camera system, but the custodian didn't know the password. Westerly police then called for their department IT technician, a civilian employee, to come and help officers gain access.
"We were then huddled together in this office, the victim and blood in plain view, as we sought to review the video," Lacey explained. "There was nothing to indicate which cameras were which, so we needed to assign staff to cameras at each floor to determine which ones we were looking at."
It took several hours, he said, but police eventually determined that Giachello was the suspect and identified him with the help of the custodian and facility tenant roster.
Tactical teams, which had cleared the A and B blocks and were beginning their search within the C block, were then redirected to Giachello's apartment.
Once police determined who the suspect was, a tactical officer was placed at his door to secure the room and officers worked rapidly to evacuate residents and seek witness accounts. Residents in neighboring rooms told police they had not heard any gunshots, leading police to respond "with an abundance of caution."
Around 12:15 p.m., a tactical officer used a key obtained from the custodian to unlock and open the door. A bomb-squad robot provided by the fire marshal's office entered the room and its camera showed a motionless Giachello with the gun by his side. Lacey said the Westerly tactical team then entered and cleared the apartment.
At 1 p.m., the team determined that the gunman was dead. Then all the tactical teams were then called for a debriefing and released, the police said.
"Once we were satisfied that the shooter was deceased and there was no evidence to believe anyone else was involved, we called off the school lockdowns," he said. "Residents continued to shelter in place at that time, but the building was considered secure."
Police then led ambulance personnel to the apartment and Giachello was officially pronounced dead, bringing a formal end to the emergency response.
Lacey said the department remained on scene for "quite some time" to collect evidence and process the scene. The Attorney General's Office aided in providing search warrants right at the scene, which expedited the investigations, and the bodies of Giachello and Cardinal were covered.
Lacey said the police, for several hours, had not known that all of the residents were able see what was going on in the downstairs lobby, via a live camera feed to their rooms. He said the department was not aware of any residents who had seen the actual shooting. In any case, as the investigation continued, the lobby camera was temporarily shut down.
Lacey said his department is continuing to investigate the circumstances of the shooting, and technical issues related to the surveillance system.
"As with anything, there will always areas for improvement," he said. "We will be meeting with all appropriate parties and those involved in the coming weeks with a goal of looking at anything we could do better and will consider any changes that would allow us to respond faster and more efficiently."