The uncle of a Hofstra student accidentally shot and killed by a Nassau police officer when he fired eight bullets at a parolee holding her hostage criticized the officer's tactics, but authorities said it was unclear if he knew it was a hostage situation.
"I think the police is not very professional," Henrique Santos told The Associated Press yesterday outside the Tarrytown home of slain student Andrea Rebello. "If he's professional, he should have tried negotiation."
Andrea Rebello, 21, was shot in the head early Friday morning in Uniondale after Dalton Smith, a 30-year-old parolee with a lengthy criminal record on Long Island, invaded the rented home she shared with college friends. A Nassau officer, who sources identified as Nikolas Budimlic, responded to a 911 call and confronted Smith inside the home as he held Rebello in a headlock with a handgun at her head.
Police said the officer opened fire when Smith pointed the gun at him, hitting the man seven times and Rebello once in the head. Both were killed.
"It does not appear that he knew" whether it was a hostage situation, said police Insp. Kenneth Lack of the officer who fired the fatal shots.
Santos said Rebello's twin sister, Jessica, who was inside the home when Smith forced his way in and held them and two friends hostage, has been overcome by grief and unable to eat ever since.
In a statement released Monday night, the Rebello family said they were "heartbroken and overwhelmingly devastated by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Andrea. We are grateful for all of the kindness and sympathy shown to our family. In our grief, we ask for privacy as we try to make sense of all that has happened."
Police said the officer arrived on the scene and quickly made his way to the front door of the California Avenue home. He knocked on the door and Jessica Rebello opened it and screamed "he's got a gun" before escaping. Soon after, the officer confronted Smith, who was holding Andrea Rebello.
He was placed on sick leave and could not be reached for comment, but a source said he was an NYPD officer before joining Nassau. A source inside the Nassau police department said had the officer known "there was a hostage inside, he wouldn't have gone in when he did."
Two minutes after police were sent to the house, an officer can be heard telling a dispatcher "there are hostages" there, according to an audiotape of police scanner communications. The dispatcher repeats the hostage alert. About 15 seconds later an officer says "he's got the gun pointed at their heads. We need supervisors," according to the audiotape. The dispatcher repeats that as well.
Nassau police officials declined to outline the department's procedures for a hostage situation, but NYPD's guide calls for officers to seek cover and request a patrol supervisor and hostage negotiators.
Officers should "attempt to slow" the pace of the incident, try to talk to the hostage taker and refrain from actions that might provoke the suspect, according to the NYPD guide.
The Nassau district attorney's office is conducting an investigation as it does in all officer involved shootings, officials said.
Lack said Jessica Rebello initially complied with the gunman's order to tell the officer at the door nothing was wrong.
"She said it was a sorority house and everything was fine," Lack said.
When she screamed "he's got a gun" and ran out, the officer entered the house, police said, and that's when another hostage, Jessica's boyfriend, hid behind a sofa and shouted, "the police are here."
"The element of surprise was lost" for police, Lack said.
Since the shooting, Jessica Rebello has been "sleeping too much," the twins' uncle said.
"We had to try to give her some food," he said. "When she wakes up, she says 'Oh my god, what did I do wrong?' "
The funeral for the Hofstra student will be held Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow.