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Man claiming to have rifle, bomb fatally shot by Worcester police during confrontation

Worcester District Attorney Joe Early addressed the media Wednesday morning outside the Worcester police station after a Worcester police officer fatally shot an armed suspect on Grafton Street early Wednesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

WORCESTER — Police fatally shot a 31-year-old man who claimed to have a rifle and a bomb after a lengthy standoff, the authorities said Wednesday.

At a news conference, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said Phet Gouvonvong, 31, called 911 around 10:40 p.m. Tuesday and told a dispatcher he had a rifle and a bomb that “could and may” detonate.

Police negotiators and SWAT officers arrived on Grafton Street and set up a protective perimeter. Gouvonvong appeared to be carrying an “assault rifle, body armor, a backpack, and an explosive device, as well as other wires and different things about his person,” Early said.

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Negotiators began a lengthy effort to deescalate the situation, Early said. But Gouvonvong “appeared to get more and more agitated [and] was making furtive movements,” Early said.

Shortly after midnight, an officer shot Gouvonvong “as a result of those furtive movements,” Early said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Video footage of the confrontation, recorded by neighbors, showed police keeping a careful distance with their guns drawn as Gouvonvong stood in front of a Cumberland Farms. Gouvonvong eventually moved out of view but could still be heard talking and shouting at police before four gunshots rang out.

Officials did not identify the officer who shot Gouvonvong. The officer has been placed on administrative leave, according to protocol. Police urged anyone with cellphone video of the standoff to contact investigators.

Early said the 911 dispatcher was on the phone with Gouvonvong for “an extended period of time” before the officer opened fire. Gouvonvong did not fire his weapon, he said.

“He was telling us that this bomb could and would go off if things occurred to him, but I can’t get into the negotiations,” Early said. “She kept him on the phone for a long time doing her job.”

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Gouvonvong was carrying a handgun with “multiple rounds” of ammunition, Early said.

“They weren’t able to ascertain that until after he was shot,” Early said. “But if you saw the appearance of the guy, it appeared to be an assault rifle. He had body armor on him.”

The shooting happened hours after a jury in Minneapolis convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of killing George Floyd last year — a case that prompted nationwide calls for police accountability. But Early said there is no evidence that Gouvonvong’s actions were related.

Early said investigators were working to determine whether his apparent explosives were operable at the time of the standoff.

“We have a very good idea what he had, but again it’s still part of the investigation,” he said.

Marco Saez, who lives nearby, said he frequently hears gunshots in the area. But this time was different, as he awoke to the sound of several shots in succession.

“When I look out the window, I seen like all these tactical, like, maybe 10 guys all huddled around coming this way and going that way,” Saez said. “Everybody woke up.”

Saez said he later saw Gouvonvong’s body on the ground underneath a covering.

“It’s nerve-racking” he said of the deadly confrontation. “I’m glad that nobody [else] got hurt.”

A couple named Esmarlin and Rafael said they went outside when they heard sirens and began taking video with their phones. They could hear police talking with Gouvonvong.

“He was so calm,” said Rafael, who declined to give his full name. “That’s what made us nervous. He said, ‘If you shoot me, I’ll just blow up.’ ”

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When they realized Gouvonvong might have a bomb, Rafael took their 5-year-old daughter up the street to a relative’s house.

Chris Belsito, who runs a pop-up kitchen inside a restaurant near Gouvonvong’s apartment, said Gouvonvong had come in once or twice.

“Never bothered anybody,” Belsito said. “Nothing like you’d expect all this out of him.”

The news had left him stunned, he said.

“It’s shocking because you might expect that from a kid who’s always in trouble, but he wasn’t,” he said. “He was just quiet and didn’t seem to have any trouble around him.”

Belsito, 53, said neighbors were troubled by the case.

“Everyone I’ve talked to is really upset because there’s a lot of families and kids here, and to have someone who was armed with ammunition and bombs and whatever else,” Belsito said. “I didn’t know if they were going to find more explosives or what would happen.”

Ron Messier, who lives next door, said he saw investigators enter Gouvonvong’s apartment Wednesday morning. They left carrying bags.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.