PROVIDENCE — A man who told someone that police would never take him alive died Thursday morning after a standoff at his home where he fired “hundreds of rounds” at police officers.
Police officers fired back at Scott MacLean, 61, who was aiming at them from a bedroom window at his home at 25 Denison St. No civilians or officers were hit, but MacLean was found dead inside his home after the exchange of gunfire and a small fire at the house.
“The city of Providence has never experienced an exchange of gunfire like this before,” Commander Thomas Verdi, a veteran of 34 years, told The Boston Globe.
The police had been called to the house at 1:55 a.m. after a relative of MacLean’s said he had assaulted his wife and daughter and drew a gun on his son, said Commissioner Steven M. Paré.
The family told police that MacLean had been in treatment for mental health issues and on medication, but he had been drinking for several days and had become distressed and despondent, Paré said. MacLean also had a lot of ammunition, assorted firearms and assault rifles, he said.
His wife and children left the house, and MacLean was alone. The police had residents in the surrounding homes evacuated and negotiators spent hours attempting to negotiate with MacLean and get him to leave the house peacefully, Verdi said.
MacLean refused to come out, and “someone told police that he will not be taken alive,” Verdi said.
The state police were called in to assist and brought their BearCat armored tactical vehicle, so police officers could get next to the house safely.
After hours of silence, the police sent a robot into the house to look around for MacLean, rolling it around on the first floor, and then the second floor, Verdi said.
There was no movement until they shot a pepper-spray canister into the second-floor bedroom window, where he was believed to be. There was movement in the bedroom, Paré said.
And then, MacLean went to a gun safe and started pulling out weapons, Paré said.
From the bedroom window, MacLean opened fire on the officers outside, Verdi said. They returned fire.
A family sleeping in an apartment house on Branch Avenue, just behind the house on Denison Street, rushed down from their third-floor apartment to take cover in the basement. The father, who would only use his first name, Johnny, said he saw the man shooting at police officers, as they fired back.
At Jeanette’s Bakery on Branch Avenue, owner Michelle Bucci, whose husband’s grandmother started the bakery about 75 years ago, had come in before dawn to start making the daily calzones. She ran outside when she heard the sudden eruption of gunfire. Then, she ran back in, with police yelling at people to get inside, and took cover with her tenant. They peeked out the back door at the two-story yellow house that abutted the backyard.
When she’d arrived at the bakery around 4 a.m., Bucci had seen the police activity and noticed an officer on a porch trying to talk to someone inside the house. She hadn’t been concerned; the scene appeared quiet, and it’s not that unusual for police to deal with domestic issues in the neighborhood and the occasional gunfire.
“When you live in Providence, you know the sound of gunfire,” she said.
But this, the nearly nonstop rattle of shots, for about 20 minutes, was unlike anything she’d ever seen in this neighborhood. She and her tenant huddled in the bakery and watched a scene that looked like war.
“Stop moving the rifle! Stop what you’re doing, put the rifle down, and come downstairs!” an officer shouted through a bullhorn, in a video Bucci recorded on her cell phone.
A man could be heard yelling back, then gunfire blasted from the second-story window.
Paré said that MacLean was aiming for the officers taking cover outside the house, and the bullets pinged the armored vehicle holding more officers. Afterward, one could see bullet holes peppered around the window and yellow markers for the projectiles strewn outside.
There were hundreds of rounds, Paré said, and MacLean kept going back to the gun safe to retrieve more weapons and ammunition to use against the police — a shotgun, a handgun, and then a firearm that “fired pretty rapidly.”
“He opened fire like there was no tomorrow,” Paré said. “How none of the officers were hit was incredible.”
The firefight began in the dark and was still going as the sun was beginning to rise. Then, it stopped suddenly, and there was a plume of smoke and then fire engulfing the bedroom.
The police were cautious, not knowing whether MacLean had left the bedroom and was hiding somewhere else in the house, the commissioner said. But, when the only sounds were the ammunition going off in the fire, and no other movement, the firefighters extinguished the blaze from the outside to prevent it from spreading, then the police and firefighters went inside and found MacLean’s body in the bedroom, under burned debris, Paré said.
The cause of his death has not yet been identified.
MacLean had no criminal record, and no military or law enforcement background, Paré said. While MacLean was being treated for mental health issues, it wasn’t known whether that would have affected his ability to possess firearms.
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NCIS, screens people prohibited from buying firearms, including convicted felons, undocumented immigrants, and people with serious mental health issues.
Rhode Island requires background checks of people buying guns, and a state law passed in 2014 allows judges to submit the names of those considered mentally incompetent to a national background-check system that screens people buying firearms.
“When you mix mental health issues with firearms, this is what you end up with,” Paré said. “He was shooting to injure or kill police officers. We need to do a better job of keeping guns from people with mental health [issues].”
“No innocent persons were hit and thank God, no Providence police were shot,” Verdi said. “He fired, and fired, and fired for half an hour, a firefight unlike I have ever seen.”
As the medical examiner arrived to recover MacLean’s body, and Providence police detectives combed the area for evidence and witnesses, Jeanette’s Bakery opened to a line of customers for the day.
And the owner thought about the terrifying night.
“People always say we need police officers, especially in the city,” Bucci said. “They don’t get enough credit. They put themselves in a lot of danger last night.”