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Editorial: Questions shroud fatal shootings at Hofstra

Left: Hofstra University students mourn Andrea Rebello during

Left: Hofstra University students mourn Andrea Rebello during a vigil held May 18, 2013 at the Hempstead school. Right: Hofstra University junior Andrea Rebello, 21, was killed during an armed home invasion at an off-campus residence in Uniondale. This photo is from her blog, Credit: Danielle Finkelstein / Handout

There should be no misunderstanding about why Hofstra student Andrea Rebello is dead: The life of this 21-year-old Tarrytown resident ended tragically because Dalton Smith, a career criminal who had spent the vast majority of his adulthood incarcerated for serious, often violent crimes, invaded her home and menaced Rebello and others (including her twin sister) with a loaded gun.

Smith was a vicious man. Even though he did not fire his gun, he is directly responsible for the death. Armed, he invaded a home and terrorized several college students, forcing one to go to an ATM for money. When police arrived, he used Rebello as a physical shield. In doing so, he endangered a life brimming with promise.

But even while there is no question where to hang the blame, there are questions that need to be answered, some of which stem from the fact that this felon was in a position to commit the crime:

Should Smith have been paroled after he served nine years for attempted armed robbery and criminal possession of a weapon?

Was it appropriate to let Smith out once again, in February, after he had been jailed for violating that parole? Will we learn that the local parole office is understaffed?

Was Smith pursued as actively as he should have been once a warrant was issued for his arrest in April, again for violating parole?

These are the questions it's easiest to be angry about. Smith, 30, seems to have proved with his every adult act that he was a dangerous man who would not follow society's rules and would endanger others. Why, then, didn't we take him at his word, and acts?

The other issues involve the review of the police response in the tense and chaotic minutes after they arrived at the crime scene.

Was the lone officer's entering of the home under these circumstances standard operating procedure for the Nassau County Police Department?

If other law enforcement agencies follow different protocols in situations with an armed gunman and hostages, should Nassau change its procedures?

How will the county police and the district attorney investigate the case? Do these probes have different goals? Will the findings be released to the Rebello family and public?

Second-guessing the officer who fired seven bullets into Smith and one into Rebello, killing both, is not the point. That officer was faced with numerous split-second decisions, starting with whether to enter the house and ending with whether to fire. If Andrea Rebello had lived, the officer would be hailed a hero.

He may yet be, once all the facts are known. The officer who fired the shots had served eight years with the New York City Police Department and then 12 more with the Nassau force. If evidence makes it clear that the officer could not wait for backup or hostage negotiators because the students faced imminent danger, then so be it.

But that may not be the case, or not entirely the case, and this is not the last such incident that will occur in Nassau County. There could be ways to keep men like Smith behind bars. There may be steps to take at active crime scenes to increase the odds of a better outcome. If so, we must find out, and explain the answers to the public, then pursue these tactics.