Sean Gannon’s funeral service was held at Saint Pius X Church on Thursday.
Sean Gannon’s funeral service was held at Saint Pius X Church on Thursday.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A man determined to choose violence. A cop determined to live a good life

MARSTONS MILLS — The pregnant woman called Yarmouth police distraught on Oct. 9, 2016. Her boyfriend, Thomas Latanowich, had thrown her down and choked her when she told him she wanted to take him off the family cellphone plan, she told the dispatcher.

When Officer Sean Gannon showed up with his partners, Latanowich was long gone — he’d slashed the woman’s tire and run off, she said. It was just one more alleged explosion of cruelty from a man who had seemed determined to choose violence since he was a teenager, and who had picked up a “kill or be killed” mentality as he cycled in and out of prison.

On this day, it was Gannon who arrived to calm the woman Latanowich had allegedly left shaken. Gannon was smart, handsome, and just married to the woman of his dreams. He had wanted to be a cop since he was a little boy drawing superheroes, and he was known for his restraint, his quiet but firm sense of right and wrong, and the gentle way he spoke to victims.

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He searched for Latanowich, then requested a warrant for his arrest. His career was full of calls like this, each one a chance to offer protection and comfort. He was on his way to great things, the rest of the department agreed — he would be a chief somewhere for sure. But for now, he was happy on the street, where the good he did was immediate and tangible.

Gannon and Latanowich never met on that October day, but it was a brush that would foretell another encounter 18 months later, that one deadly. Only three years apart in age, they could not have been more different: One man dreaming of a family and a life of service, the other bent on a life outside the law, of money and power and staying out of prison — no matter the cost.

They could not have known that they would come face to face in a cramped attic in a rundown house in the Barnstable village of Marstons Mills, bullets closing the distance between them.

Police officers searched on the roof of the house where the shooting of Sean Gannon allegedly took place.
Police officers searched on the roof of the house where the shooting of Sean Gannon allegedly took place.
WBZ-TV

***

When Sean Gannon was 4 or 5 years old, his father, Patrick, took him to the movies to see “Peter Pan,” said his mother, Denise Morency Gannon. The little boy watched, rapt, from the edge of his seat, swinging a toy sword.

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“I think Peter Pan was kind of who he was,” said Morency Gannon. “He saw, ‘Wow, this kid knows how to lead, and they follow him, and they can fly. And he knows how to fight evil.’ ”

After that, it was all Peter Pan all the time in the Gannon household. Morency Gannon made Sean a little green construction paper cone hat with a red feather, and he put it on every day before he even got out of bed. His little brother, Timothy, played Captain Hook, and their baby sister, Martha, filled whatever role they needed that day.

Even as a child, he had a deep understanding of what it meant to be a good and honorable person. Early in elementary school, Morency Gannon said, he refused to attend a classmate’s pool party because the little boy was mean.

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“Thank you very much for inviting me,” Sean told the boy’s father, “but I will not be there.”

Though he was strong for his age, he would not fight, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone.

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In eighth grade, a group of boys began bullying him, calling him a “baby” because he wouldn’t use his fists, Morency Gannon said. One day at recess, one of the boys tripped him.

Sean snapped. He threw the boy up against the schoolyard fence and stepped back. The schoolyard went quiet. The boy ran at him again, and again, Sean put him up against the fence, Morency Gannon said.

She was always proud that even in his fury, he had enough self-control to stop his revenge far short of the pummeling he could have delivered.

Her son was always an unselfconscious mix of strength and sweetness, Morency Gannon said. He was a talented artist, and for his eighth-grade talent show, he displayed his portfolio, inspiring other bashful 13-year-old boys to announce that they, too, loved to draw.

And every week, when Morency Gannon dropped his brother and sister off at piano lessons, she and Sean would walk together around Buttonwood Park in New Bedford, where they lived. One day, when he was on the cusp of starting ninth grade, Morency Gannon turned to him and told him that if he was embarrassed to be seen walking with his mom once he was in high school, they could stop.

Sean looked shocked, she remembered. He responded simply and firmly:

“I’ll always walk with you.”

***

Thomas Latanowich was brought into Barnstable District Court on Friday for his arraignment.
Thomas Latanowich was brought into Barnstable District Court on Friday for his arraignment.
Steve Heaslip/The Cape Cod Times via Associated Press

In a rap that Thomas Latanowich recorded under the name Tommy Gunnz when he was 20 years old, he spit verses against a heavy drumbeat.

“Risk your life, especially if the price is right/ and if the price is wrong call your dogs, tell them time to get it on, they gotta die no matter the call/ consider it Iraq because we’re going to war,” he rapped. “I put the line of death in your palm.”

He had fallen in love with the “gangster lifestyle” as a teenager and he never grew up, said a person who has known him for a long time and asked for anonymity because the person did not want to be associated with Latanowich.

“He wanted to be the biggest thing out here,” said the person. “It was the dominance, the money, the power. Who he is. He’s a control freak.”

Latanowich was raised on the Cape, dropped out of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in 11th grade, and picked up his first adult charges at Barnstable District Court at 17 years old, for leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury. He was cleared after trial. That same year, he beat charges for stealing a car, armed robbery, possession of cocaine, assault with a dangerous weapon, and making a bomb or hijacking threat.

Over the next dozen years, he was in and out of court for heroin trafficking, illegal gun possession, and brutal attacks on women he was dating as well as apparent strangers. Charges were often dismissed or he was acquitted at trial, but as the arrests kept coming, he began spending longer and longer stretches of time behind bars.

Every time he came out, he was angrier, more convinced that the system was rigged against him, said the person who knew him.

“It’s always someone else’s fault, not his,” said the person. “His way of thinking is the right way, and everyone else can go [expletive] themselves.”

As they grew up, got jobs, and started families, his friends tried to pull him along with them. How much money is enough, one person asked him, according to a person with direct knowledge, before you leave this life?

Latanowich only shrugged.

***

A wedding photo of Sean Gannon and his wife, Dara.
A wedding photo of Sean Gannon and his wife, Dara.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sean Gannon and Dara Bryan were nervous before their blind date in 2014, but their friends were convinced that the funny, humble cop would hit it off with the sunny and smart program officer for the Cape Cod Foundation. They were right. The date stretched on for hours, Morency Gannon said. Soon, Gannon brought her to his family’s New Year’s Day party.

As soon as she walked through the door, Gannon’s mother was taken with her son’s girlfriend, who was blonde and beautiful and moved easily into the crowd of 50 strangers.

“You’re adorable!” Morency Gannon exclaimed.

“I love this party!” she replied, grinning.

Gannon was completely smitten. They shared a love of international travel, mountain climbing, camping, and dogs — eventually keeping three in the house they bought together in Dennis.

They got married on Oct. 1, 2016. Photographs show them walking away from the altar, Mr. and Mrs. Gannon beaming and laughing, their fingers intertwined, moments into what they imagined would be a long life as husband and wife.

Sean Gannon had worked his way up to a position as a K9 officer for the Yarmouth Police Department after starting as a public safety officer working the midnight shift at Stonehill College in 2007. He had earned a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Westfield State University, and a master’s in Emergency Management from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

“I’ve been a police officer for 45 years, and I think Sean is one of the finest police officers I’ve met,” said Stonehill Chief Peter Carnes, who used to head the Yarmouth Police Department.

Gannon didn’t talk much about his work once he got off the clock, Morency Gannon said. Much of what he saw was painful. But he loved the men and women he worked with. He had looked at high-paying jobs with the FBI, CIA, and DEA, but in Yarmouth, his mother said, Gannon found a second family: cops with integrity, who cared about their community, who would do anything for each other.

He had a special relationship with his police dogs: First, his drug dog, Thor, then his patrol dog, Nero. He had grown up loving his family’s dog, a Springer named Molly, and as a teenager he loved to paint wolves. A Police K9 is more than a pet, Morency Gannon said — Thor and Nero were his partners.

He was on the list for promotion to Sergeant, said Carnes, but he loved working the beat.

“He really enjoyed the street, and sometimes you can promote yourself out of the job you really like,” said Carnes, who remained close to Gannon and his family after he left Stonehill. “I think he liked the challenge of getting a call, to provide a specialty service to an investigation.”

The chance to work with his K9 to find a fleeing suspect or an elderly person wandering with dementia, man and dog moving as one, appealed to Gannon more than the prospect of a raise, Carnes said.

About six weeks ago, the Gannons went to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. They posed for a picture on a rain forest path, verdant green mountains behind them disappearing into the clouds, and wondered at the beauty of the waterfalls and beaches where “Jurassic Park” was filmed.

It was supposed to be their last big vacation before they began trying to start a family.

***

Thomas Latanowich.
Thomas Latanowich.
Steve Heaslip/The Cape Cod Times via Associated Press

Latanowich picked up the charges that led to his longest prison sentence at 21 years old.

He’d gotten his hands on stolen guns, including a 9 millimeter semiautomatic pistol with a large capacity magazine; pulled one on a roommate in a fight over a gaming system; and hidden 9 guns and 17 different types of ammunition inside a crawl space at his girlfriend’s father’s house, according to court documents.

When he pleaded guilty in Barnstable Superior Court in July 2010, he wore a blank expression, according to court documents.

“I have got to admit, the number of times I have seen this man, I have often wondered, ‘What makes him tick?’ ” Judge Gary A. Nickerson said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “I have some concerns.”

He ordered Latanowich to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Latanowich got four to five years in prison. But just three years later, the parole board found that he was “adjusting well recently,” and was ready to go home.

Latanowich was out in November of 2013, with five years of probation, but in 26 days violated his parole and went back inside until the summer of 2014. When he got out again, he went back to picking up charges — allegedly choking his pregnant girlfriend and slashing a man he was trying to rob.

By then, he had 111 adult arraignments on his record and numerous convictions for drug, gun, and violent offenses, according to court documents. But the woman he allegedly choked refused to cooperate, and the other case was dismissed.

Latanowich talked vaguely of going straight, according to the person who knew him. He started an appliance repair company with his brother, according to state records. He wanted to get his hair-cutting license, he told people, and open up a barbershop. He had two little girls who he said he wanted to see more often — though the mothers of both girls had accused him of beating them.

But Latanowich had spent his whole life committing crimes. He didn’t know how to do anything else, said the person who knew him.

He didn’t have steady work, but he always had money, the person said.

It was a rainy afternoon in April when Latanowich, 29, escaped police for the final time, just a little more than a week before he would allegedly open fire in that Cape Cod attic.

He was allegedly driving his father’s Hyundai in the breakdown lane on Route 1 North near the Chelsea-Revere line just before 4:30 p.m. on April 3, when a state trooper tried to stop him.

Latanowich allegedly fled, veering off Route 1 and into a residential neighborhood. The trooper let him go, hesitant to give chase in bad weather where someone could be hurt.

The trooper found the car’s front bumper at the entrance to the Glenwood Cemetery in Everett. Latanowich had allegedly crashed through a fence, ditched the car inside the cemetery, and taken off.

It wasn’t his car. But in his rush to flee, he’d left behind his wallet, according to court documents. When troopers searched the car, they found a business card from the New England Hair Company with his name on it, mail addressed to him from the Department of Transitional Assistance, and his probation officer’s business card. In the center console, he’d abandoned a glass pipe. He’d dropped his cellphone in the grass a few feet away.

When a trooper called Yarmouth police detectives, they told him they knew Latanowich and that he was driving the Hyundai, according to the court documents. He was already under investigation.

Latanowich knew he was being watched. He knew what he’d left behind. So he holed up with a family he knew in Marstons Mills. He wasn’t going back to prison.

***

A week before Gannon, 32, climbed into the attic, Sean and Dara marvelled at how happy they were, Morency Gannon said.

They loved their jobs. They loved the people they worked with. They loved their friends and families.

Gannon’s little sister, Martha, was pregnant with the family’s first grandchild, due in the summer. The baby shower was scheduled for May, and after Gannon had announced that he could not be stopped by tradition from coming, Martha’s husband and her brother, Timothy, both chimed in to declare that they, too, would be in attendance.

Gannon and his wife, his siblings and their spouses — they called themselves The Six Pack — had long talked about having kids and raising them together. Plans for the shower morphed from an all-women gathering into a family event to celebrate the arrival of this new little person into the world.

***

Police tracked Latanowich to 109 Blueberry Lane in Marstons Mills, a rundown ranch-style house with chipped siding and an industrial dumpster in the browning front yard. Kids’ bikes and old car tires sat on the grass.

Officer Sean Gannon and Nero arrived on the afternoon of April 12, along with a State Police trooper and several other officers. They had a warrant for Latanowich’s arrest on a probation violation. Most of the neighbors didn’t even notice them as they filed into the house.

The home had been a problem for years, neighbors said, and court documents showed that the owner had tried to force out the family living there.

“Something didn’t feel right over there,” said one woman who lived down the street. In recent weeks, several people said they’d begun to see lots of unfamiliar vehicles coming in and out.

That afternoon, Gannon, Nero, and the other officers began their sweep, checking one room after another. Latanowich was not in the living room with its wide windows; he was not in any of the three small bedrooms. Children’s toys were scattered about: a teddy bear, furniture with “The Princess” scrawled in a child’s handwriting. Latanowich wasn’t in the kitchen or either bathroom.

There was nowhere else to search. The only place left was the attic. The officers did not know what they would find.

Sean Gannon and his K-9, Nero.
Sean Gannon and his K-9, Nero.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It is an established police tactic, when searching an enclosed space like an attic where visibility is limited upon entry, to send a K9 up first, followed close behind by the K9 officer. The K9 can smell or hear a hidden suspect long before a human and raise the alarm; it can maneuver in a small area; and it can often subdue the suspect fast, without gunfire.

So Nero went first.

From inside, shots rang out. A bullet caught Nero in the face and esophagus, and he fell. Gannon, at his dog’s back as always, had just entered the attic when a single bullet hit him in the head.

The other officers pulled him out, but it was too late.

Latanowich allegedly hid out for almost two hours as police whipped up Blueberry Lane and crouched behind their cruisers, guns drawn. Officials worked to establish communications with him.

When Latanowich finally surrendered, police filled the house once more, this time searching for Gannon’s brave and faithful partner, Nero.

The house was ominously silent. If Nero had been inside with the suspect, why wasn’t he barking? The officers didn’t know if he’d run out of the house, curled up in a closet, or died alone on the floor, his last act of courage.

Yarmouth police
Sean Gannon and Nero.

It was three hours after Nero was shot that they found him crumpled in the attic. He was breathing. Sean Gannon was dead.

***

The morning of the day that her son was killed, Morency Gannon woke up slowly, half-dreaming and half-remembering a moment more than 30 years ago.

She and her husband, Patrick, had been married for just over a year, and Sean was about 8 months old. Patrick Gannon was studying for his master’s degree, and she had taken her little boy into another room in the first-floor apartment they were renting to give her husband some quiet.

Her normally squirmy baby was content for once to sit on her lap, facing her, holding her hands, she said. Lying in bed, she could feel again the weight of his husky body, and his hot palms in hers. And suddenly, they were both laughing, deep belly-laughs they could not stop. Her husband wandered in, perplexed, and she could not explain it.

They were just two people in love with each other and the joy of being alive.

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