WESTERLY, R.I. — Violence erupted in this usually peaceful seaside community on the Connecticut border Thursday morning when a resident of an assisted living complex shot three women, killing one, and then apparently fatally shot himself, officials said.
The shooting at Babcock Village Apartments shook the town of 17,000 and prompted schools, public buildings, and businesses in the area to be placed on lockdown as authorities searched for the gunman. Nervous residents waited in their homes while dozens of police swarmed the scene. The town’s police chief, who could not remember the last homicide in Westerly, called it “a shock to the community.”
A 47-year-old woman was fatally shot, while a 38-year-old woman and 67-year-old woman were wounded. The first two women were employees of the facility, while the older woman was a resident, officials said.
The 38-year-old woman was at Yale-New Haven Hospital in critical condition Thursday, while the 67-year-old woman was going into surgery at Rhode Island Hospital, said Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey.
The suspect, a 66-year-old man, was later found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his room, Lacey said. Officials did not name the suspect or the victims.
Police received a 911 call reporting the shooting at 10:32 a.m. and were on the scene at 10:35 a.m. at the Babcock Village development, Lacey said. Babcock Village is a three-story, “elderly-preferred” apartment complex, with 151 units, at 122 Cross St.
Lacey said police secured the building and then began reviewing video surveillance footage from inside. The video led them to a suspect. Tactical team officers from the Rhode Island State Police and Westerly police went to the suspect’s room, where, with the help of a master key and a State Police robot, they entered and found the man had apparently shot himself.
The shooting of the three women took place in the general area of the facility’s office, he said.
Lacey said, “We are familiar with the suspect. . . . His name is in our system,” but he had no further details.
Lacey said police have trained for these situations. “Westerly is a close-knit community, but we’ve seen these kinds of [shootings] happen nationwide and worldwide,” he said.
When they realized the gunman was still at large, Westerly police notified the State Police. Soon, Rhode Island State Police Colonel James Manni said, there were between 80 to 100 law enforcement officers at the scene with Westerly, including surrounding local departments in Rhode Island and Connecticut, the Rhode Island State Police, agents from FBI and ATF offices in Boston, and the attorney general’s office.
Governor Gina Raimondo visited privately with the first-responders after the shooting. She said she wanted to offer her thanks and support to the rescuers, one of whom had just started his first day on the job.
“Westerly is a wonderful community, but no community is immune from gun violence,” Raimondo said.
The town is small enough that word spread quickly about the women who were injured and the woman who died.
Property Advisory Group & Affordable Housing Strategies, which owns Babcock Village, said in a statement that the company was “shocked and saddened that this tragedy has occurred.”
“Our priority, as always, is the safety of our residents and staff. We are working with law enforcement to address this situation” read the statement.
Westerly’s three elementary schools, middle school, and high school were locked down, as was Westerly Hospital, the town’s library, and schools in neighboring Stonington, Conn.
A parent on Facebook at one point asked Westerly school authorities, “Can parents come pick kids up!!”
School officials responded, “No, they cannot.”
Around 1 p.m., school officials announced the lockdown had been lifted.
Cross Street resident Georgia Olsen said Babcock Village is a huge facility in a residential area.
“Yes, I’m surprised,” she said. “It’s been quiet here. We haven’t had problems.”
Marjorie, a neighborhood resident who did not want her last name used, said, “I’m sitting in the house and I have everything locked. . . . I’m nervous, of course.” She said she often takes her daily walk around Babcock Village and called the neighborhood “very quiet.”
“I’m waiting to hear that the person has been found. I will feel better then,” she said.
Jacquelyn Smith is the parish administrator at Christ Episcopal Church, which is three to four minutes away from Babcock Village. At about 12:30 p.m., Smith said the church was on lockdown and that anxiety had permeated the community.
“Since we are so close-knit and a lot of our pastoral care is for Babcock Village, we are anxious for our parishioners,” she said.
Babcock Village houses low-income elderly people, Smith said.
“Since we’re an ocean community, we have a lot of vacationers who have summer homes,” she said. When the vacationers leave for the winter, Smith said, the population shrinks, and the remaining Westerly residents are “like a family.”
Westerly is known for the easygoing summer fun of beaches at its southern end, including Misquamicut State Beach and the beaches in the Watch Hill section, where singer Taylor Swift owns an oceanfront mansion.
State Representative Samuel A. Azzinaro, who has lived in Westerly for all of his 76 years, said, “I don’t ever remember anything like this happening in my life — nothing like this with locking down schools and streets and everything.”
“Everybody is in shock that this is happening,” Azzinaro said.
Thursday evening, inside a little white church in the nearby village of Ashaway, about 20 people bowed their heads to pray.
The pastor of the First Seventh Day Baptist Church of Hopkinton learned the news about the shooting at Babcock Village and realized some of his parishioners live or work there. One of their parishioners contacted their prayer chain and said her friend had been killed.
“There is evil in the world. There is darkness,” the Rev. Dave Stall told those gathered. “We saw it today, but it doesn’t win. . . . God wins.”
Ed Fitzpatrick and Martin Finucane of Globe staff and Globe correspondents Maria Lovato and Alyssa Lukpat contributed to this report.