Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

In East Boston, police defy bullets and madness

A vigil was held at the East Boston Police Headquarters this evening for the two police officers shot last night.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
A vigil was held at the East Boston Police Headquarters this evening for the two police officers shot last night.

It was about a stupid thermostat.

Roommates sometimes fight about what temperature to keep the apartment at, and most roommates can resolve the dispute with words, or maybe an offer to pay more of the heating bill.

But Kirk Figueroa, a guy who collected weapons the way others collect stamps, responded by pulling a knife. His roommate responded by calling the cops.

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And when Richie Cintolo and Matt Morris, a couple of street cops assigned to District 7 in East Boston, showed up at the door on Gladstone Street in Orient Heights, Kirk Figueroa responded to them not with words but with a shotgun.

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This account is based on interviews with police officials who have knowledge of the investigation:

In the time between his initial confrontation with his roommate and the arrival of the police, Figueroa had donned a bulletproof vest and armed himself with the shotgun and a pistol.

Cintolo, 27 years on the job, was shot in the face, just under his chin, and the chest and shoulder. Morris, a 12-year veteran of the force, was shot in the groin area. The round hit an artery in his leg, and he began bleeding out.

Cliff Singletary, a Boston cop who has seen a lot over his 20 years on the street, had a young cop named Lenin Ortiz with him in the tactical car, or TAC car, when they heard the commotion over the radio. Someone was calling for the gun car, which is another name for the TAC car. Luckily, Singletary and Ortiz were in East Boston at the time, and they were at the scene in a flash.

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By this point, a cop assigned to District 7 named Eric Schmidt had arrived and began shooting over his fallen comrades, driving Figueroa back, while other officers dragged Cintolo and Morris out of the line of fire.

Singletary had the presence of mind to use his fingers to pinch Morris’s artery, and Sergeant Norberto Perez applied a tourniquet, saving Morris’s life.

Schmidt continued to rain cover fire at Figueroa, making it impossible for Figueroa to shoot the others from District 7 — officers Joe Greco, Joe McSorley, Ralph Amoroso, Hector Gonzalez, Rodney Cameron, and Earl Jacobs — who kept streaming toward the scene after they had heard reports of an officer down.

When his .40-caliber pistol was empty, Schmidt popped in another clip and kept firing. When that clip was empty, he put in the other clip he was carrying. And when that clip was empty, he picked up a rifle that one of the tactical officers had put down as he tended to Cintolo and Morris.

Luckily, Schmidt had been trained on how to use the rifle in an earlier posting with Mobile Operations, the unit that Singletary and Ortiz belong to.

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“These guys ran into an active firefight,” Pat Rose, the president of the patrolman’s union, said. “If not for their actions, I don’t want to think about what would have happened to Richie and Matt.”

Hours after the shooting, it didn’t look good, especially for Matt Morris. He had lost a lot of blood. The transfusions began as soon as he reached Massachusetts General Hospital.

A vigil had begun. Pat Rose was there. So were Police Commissioner Bill Evans, superintendent-in-chief Willie Gross, Mayor Walsh. At one point, a young physician named Dr. Dana Stearns convened a circle.

He told them that St. Michael, the patron saint of law enforcement, must have been watching over Richie Cintolo, Matt Morris, and the dozen other officers who ran headlong toward gunfire. One of the premier vascular surgeons happened to be at Mass General when the wounded cops came in, Stearns told them.

Evans thanked the doctors. Then he said a prayer, before he asked a whole city to pray.

Out of surgery, Morris woke up and asked Evans to thank the officers who saved his life. Evans swallowed hard and promised he would do just that.

As the day had wore on, and the prognosis for the two officers improved, Pat Rose exhaled heavily.

“I can’t believe we’re not burying two cops,” he said. “Every one of them who responded is a hero. Actually, what they did goes beyond heroism. . . . It is hard to put in words what they did.”

I’ll try. They did for their own what they would do for you and me. They defied bullets and madness and chaos, and the only person who died Wednesday night in Orient Heights was the one who had to — Kirk Figueroa.

The right Figueroa made it out alive. His name is Bobby Figueroa, one of the responding officers. He was one of the cops who did the exact opposite of what human nature tells us to do when someone is shooting.

They ran toward the gunfire, to save their brothers.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this column misidentified officer Bobby Figueroa.