The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown may have set off the armed Avon man who barricaded himself in his Lovely Street home last weekend, according to the man's roommate who reported the dispute to police.
The roommate provided a harrowing account to police detailing what transpired prior to the standoff involving Brian Benjamin, 53, of 373 Lovely St., who she said pointed a handgun at her when she confronted him about his drinking.
Benjamin faces charges of criminal posession of a pistol or revolver, second-degree threatening, first-degree criminal mischief, third-degree assault and interfering with a police officer, according to court documents. He has not entered a plea yet and is scheduled to appear in court again Jan. 29. A Hartford Superior Court judge raised his bond from $250,000 to $1 million.
He is also barred from contact with his female roommate, with whom he lived for four years, according to a protective order against him.
The woman, a friend of Benjamin's, told police that he was "depressed and suicidal," particularly "after the Newtown shootings," Avon Police Officer Susan Kassey said in her incident report. The school massacre that resulted in the deaths of six educators and 20 young children "triggered something in Benjamin," who lost his 5-year-old daughter 25 years ago when she died of a heart condition, the woman told police.
The roommate told police she "believed that the incident in Newtown had set Benjamin off and she was concerned he would 'shoot it out with the police,'" Det. Sgt. Jeffrey Gilbert said in his incident report.
Benjamin is a recovering alcoholic and drinking has made him "angry and depressed" in the past, the woman told police. He remained "clean and sober" during their time living together until she noticed him drinking around 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 30, 2012, she said. He refused to leave when she asked him to and denied punching a hole in the wall while she was out of the room, according to the woman.
The woman called 911 to report the dispute at 1:38 p.m. last Sunday. After finding out, Benjamin yelled "they won't take me alive" and "I'll kill anyone who comes in the door" and returned with a handgun, the woman told police. He grabbed her by the hair and put the gun to her head, she said. She was struck in the head a couple times as he moved the gun around her face, according to her written statement to police.
The woman escaped with her two dogs after Benjamin pushed her to the ground and walked into another room. Police found her crying at the bottom of the driveway.
Kassey, who arrived first on scene with Officer Erin Connole, said in her report that Benjamin yelled from his garage, "I'm going to shoot both of you if you come over here" and eventually closed the door. The woman told Kassey that Benjamin was alone inside and "wanted to die by suicide by a police officer."
Kassey pulled the woman into her police cruiser after the woman told her that Benjamin had "threatened to kill her" when she tried to leave for work.
Kassey and Connole blocked off Lovely Street and asked dispatch to call an American Medical Response unit and fire police. Gilbert, who arrived soon after with Lt. Kelly Walsh, directed officers to evacuate residents between 365 and 381 Lovely St. Police secured the perimeters of the home.
Benjamin called Avon police dispatch and spoke to Dispatcher Chris Corso until North Central Hostage Negotiation Team negotiators arrived. Corso "described Benjamin's mood as agitated and irrational," Gilbert said in his incident report.
Farmington, Simsbury and North Central Emergency Services Team (NCEST) officers assisted Avon police. Bloomfield Police Lt. Art Fredericks and Windsor Police Capt. Kelvan Kearse command the regional team that "assumed control of the incident" as negotiators communicated with Benjamin, Gilbert said in his case report.
Benjamin kept telling negotiators "that he would shoot cops if they attempted to come in his house to get him," Gilbert said.
Connecticut Light & Power cut the electricity to the neighborhood and officers on the regional emergency response team shut off Benjamin's power meter. He still would not surrender, police said.
NCEST SWAT team snipers could see Benjamin pacing his house with a handgun through their "magnified optics" equipment, Gilbert said in his report. At one point the regional SWAT team saw Benjamin holding a second weapon, a long rifle. He was holding it in "port arms" position, but it was not pointed at officers at the time, Gilbert said.
"The fact that the suspect was now known to be armed with a high-powered long rifle increased the danger level of the incident and homes further to the south with sight lines of the residence were evacuated," Gilbert said in his incident report.
With no resolution in sight, NCEST officers deployed nonlethal tear gas into his home through basement and first floor windows, according to Gilbert's report. After doing so twice, Benjamin told negotiators at 2:20 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2012, that he would surrender if they stopped releasing the gas.
He exited the house unarmed with just a cell phone in his hand around 2:30 a.m. When he wouldn't follow police orders to put his hands up and get on the ground, police fired "less-lethal munitions" and several bean bag rounds struck him," Gilbert said in his report.
NCEST paramedics treated him and an AMR ambulance brought him to John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington to tend to his wounds and evaluate his mental state.
The case remains open and Benjamin is in lock-up on suicide watch, according to Hartford Superior Court records.