Maryland Man Who Shot Firefighters Trying To Help Him, Killing One, May Face Charges

As firefighters in Prince George County, Maryland, bury one of their own, who was shot Friday during a welfare check, prosecutors have called the man responsible to appear before a grand jury.

The person who shot at firefighters, killing 37-year-old John Ulmschneider, hasn’t been named. Another firefighter, Kevin Swain, 19, was shot four times and survived. Two firefighters on scene who dragged Swain to safety were also injured, NBC Washington reported.

The men arrived at the Maryland home in response to a welfare check requested by the man’s brother.

The State’s Attorney for the Maryland county, Angela Alsobrooks, said it’s too early to confirm whether he’ll be charged, but he’ll “likely” appear before a grand jury, the Associated Press reported. According to the county’s police chief, Hank Stawinski, however, he’s already been subpoenaed.

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But before any charges are filed, Maryland police have to piece together what happened last week and whether or not the man who shot at firefighters trying to enter his home had reasonable cause to believe he was in danger as he claims.

So far, the chain of events that led to the fatal shooting are not yet clear, and the investigation into the incident is active.

It all began when the homeowner’s brother called officials to check on his brother, who he believed was having a diabetic crisis. Usually, the department waits for police before entering, but only if there’s no sign of an emergency.

When they arrived at the Maryland home, they spotted a person inside unresponsive, so they decided to force their way in.

According to Fox 5 DC News, investigators initially believed that the man shot through the front door as firefighters tried to enter his home. Now, they believe they were inside when the homeowner shot his handgun at them at least six times.

Ulmschneider was the first person inside and was shot fatally, Swain was hit four times, and the brother, who was outside, an unknown number of times.

After gunshots rang out, two other firefighters from a different Maryland department — a man and a woman — ran to Swain’s side and dragged him to safety, WTOP reported. They were injured in the process but not by gunshots.

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Firefighters aren’t trained to deal with gunfire, said Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.

“For those firefighters and EMT’s and paramedics to face gunfire and be able to think about rescuing their own and pulling their own … it’s nothing short of valiant.”

The shooter claims that he fired his gun in self-defense because he believed his house was being broken into; he’s already been interviewed and released. Bashoor said the men “acted in a crisis situation, and I believe they did everything right that night with the information that they had.”

“From the preliminary information I’ve looked at, our folks did everything they were trained to do…They did all of the right things, based on the information they had in front of them. We charge those people with the responsibility to make decisions in a crisis, on the fly.”

There is currently no protocol in place to handle welfare check calls, but the department plans to develop some guidelines to govern such crisis situations in the future.

Forensic evidence is being gathered at the scene; ballistic tests will be conducted and the incident reconstructed. The brother and Swain, who is recovering from his wounds, will be interviewed. Alsobrooks said prosecutors have to figure out whether the homeowner truly believed he was in danger and if his actions in response were reasonable. The collective evidence will determine whether or not charges are filed.

“It’s not often that you hear of firefighters getting shot and killed and it’s stunning,” said Andrew Pantelis, the president of the county’s Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association.

Ulmschneider is survived by his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Pantelis called him a “class act.”

[Image via The Hilary Clark/Shutterstock]