Craig Alston burst through the door to find a 14-year-old girl in a choke hold and blood pouring from her head.
By the next day he would begin turning the scene over in his mind, playing the “what if” game.
At the moment, though, Alston had a more immediate concern on his mind: Where’s the weapon?
He was acting on instinct, on training. And he was saving a girl’s life.
That doesn’t happen every day. In fact it never happened before in Alston’s 16 years as a New Haven cop. It never happened before in Billy White’s 24 years as a New Haven cop.
They walked into one of the most harrowing scenes you can imagine that could occur in a child’s life. When it was over, the girl survived three separate attempts to kill her. She survived with, in Alston’s view, remarkable poise and courage.
It was a scene the two cops would not soon forget, either—what they were thinking at that moment, or what they would think after.
“Mom! Help Me!”
Alston, who’s 39, and White, who’s 45 and the son of retired New Haven cop of the same name, work as part of a four-person daytime-shift team of detectives. They both grew up in New Haven.
They were doing paperwork at 12:51 p.m. last Friday when the four, along with cops from all over the city, were called to the Farnam Courts public-housing projects off Grand Avenue.
Someone had shot a 41-year-old man there, nearly killed him. The shooter was believed still to be at large somewhere inside the complex.
Alston and White spread out to interview potential witnesses. White encountered a woman in her 40s standing outside her apartment. She said she had been inside the apartment with her 14-year-old daughter. Her daughter had asked her if she’d heard a gunshot. No, the mother had said. Then she had gone outside to see what was up.
After White walked away, the mother tried to get back into the apartment. Now the door was locked. She banged on the door. She heard her daughter scream: “Mom! Help me!”
Meanwhile, Alston and White met up nearby on Hamilton Street (which runs alongside the complex) to compare notes. The mother White had interviewed came running toward them. She was hysterical.
“He got my daughter in there!” she cried.
Who does? White asked.
“I don’t know! Someone got my daughter in there!”
The woman ran back to the apartment. The two cops followed. They said they had no idea they might come upon the at-large shooter.
The woman’s older daughter was outside, too. She pushed in a window air-conditioning unit and climbed into the apartment. Mom followed.
Then the mother opened the front door for Alston and White, who rushed in side by side, their .40-caliber Glock pistols drawn. They encountered a 24-year-old man and the 14-year-old girl, who was bleeding from the head, in the living room. The man had one arm around her neck.
“He’s standing behind her. He has her in a choke hold from the back,” Alston recalled. “I’m trying to put everything together. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and grey sweatpants—which was part of the description that was given of the shooter.
“After I see the blood, I’m thinking, ‘Weapon.’” Did he have one? If so, where was it?
“Show your hands! Show your hands!” White and Alston kept yelling.
The man released the girl, who fell onto a couch.
“Get down to the ground! Get down to the ground!”
This time the man hesitated. Then he complied.
By now the mother and older sister were yelling. The scene had grown chaotic; Alston and White were concerned the attacker himself might be attacked. Detectives Lynn Meekins and Carlos Romano, the other half of their four-person squad, arrived. Alston handcuffed the man and whisked him out of the apartment and handed him over to other cops. Alston and White calmed the family. Then they looked around. They found blood in the living room, blood in the bathroom. A kitchen knife handle wrapped in a towel was in the kitchen. The blade of a kitchen knife was in the bathroom.
Their investigation was just beginning.
A Detailed Recitation
It continued at Yale-New Haven’s Children’s Hospital.
In the emergency room, the girl was having staples put in her head, where the man had slashed her. Alston and White waited outside the room. After the procedure, they went in.
The girl’s mother stood at one side of her bed, holding her head. The detectives stood at the other. They needed to find out the details of what had happened in the apartment before they showed up.
They made a point of projecting calm. “You can’t be overly excited” in such a situation, Alston said. “The trickle-down effect: If you get hyped up,” so will she.
They told her the girl they understood she’d been in a scary situation, that they wanted to ask her some questions.
Composed, she told them her story.
She said that after the sound of a gunshot, after her mother left the apartment, she had sat down on a couch. She saw a man she recognized from the projects as “Twin” come in the through the back door. The girl thought the door had been locked.
Twin had a “kinda little” black gun in his hand. He pointed the gun at the girl, told her to get him a hooded sweatshirt.
She didn’t have one, she replied. He ordered her into the bathroom. She didn’t move.
He pointed the gun at her. He pulled the trigger. She heard two clicks. Nothing happened. No bullets.
They heard a knock at the apartment’s front door. Be quiet, Twin told her. He asked again for a sweatshirt. She still didn’t have one. He ordered her again into the bathroom. She complied.
Don’t move, Twin said, closing the door.
In the bathroom, the girl could hear the man moving furniture and opening a closet, she told the detectives. Then he opened the bathroom door—and brandished a large knife. He had the handle wrapped in a towel.
“Please don’t kill me!” the girl pleaded.
“I gotta kill you!” Twin replied. Then he stabbed her in the head.
The knife came apart; the two started “struggling,” moving outside the bathroom. The girl screamed for help.
The man grabbed her. That’s when her sister climbed into her apartment, then her mother—and then Alston and White, who saved the day.
Throughout the interview, the girl impressed the detectives with her command of detail: where Twin had dropped the knife, for instance. That would help them prepare a solid case.
After some 10 minutes, the interview was complete. The girl hadn’t shed a tear.
“For what she went through,” White said, “she was in pretty good spirits.”
“She was a strong young lady,” noted Alston. “She was in a fight for her life. She was in it long enough for everyone to get in” to save her.
The detectives proceeded to interview the older sister and the mother, who picked out Twin on a photo board prepared by the detectives. Yale’s Child Study Center was notified. Other detectives worked at the crime scene and conducted other interviews. The police ended up charging Twin with eight felonies, including home invasion, burglary, assault, kidnapping, risk of injury to a child, and various weapons-related offenses, related to the attacks on both the man and the girl. Twin, who also has outstanding drug-dealing charges from a separate incident, remains jailed on a $2.5 million bond. He has a history of drug, weapons, and robbery convictions dating back to 2005.
By the time White and Alston were finished wrapping up reports and went home, it was after midnight. They both conked out.
Only the next day did the magnitude of the incident strike them.
It made them both think of their own children. (They each have two.) About working hard to be good dads.
Alston played video games on his Playstation 3, his usual method for releasing tension from the job. Then he went to pick up his sons for a planned family afternoon. One of his sons, it occurred to him, is around the same age as the attacked girl.
“It kind of hit me. It made me think of the whole set of circumstances then,” Alston said.
That started the “what if” game. And that scared him. What if we had come in a moment later? he wondered. Would that have been too late?
Conversely, what if they had found out earlier that they needed to get to the apartment? Would that have protected the girl from some of what happened to her?
Alston doesn’t usually play the “what if” game, he said. This case was different. “This is going to stand out more than anything else,” he said.
Recounting the ordeal in an interview, the pair didn’t seem proud of having saved a life. More sober. And grateful, considering the alternatives.
“We were lucky we were there,” White remarked.
“It’s better to be lucky,” Alston added, “than good.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Sheree Biros
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski