The man accused of ambushing and shooting a police officer in Willimantic appeared in court for the first time Wednesday.
Andrew Samuolis, 34, was arrested after police said he shot the officer and fled the scene, forcing law enforcement officials to launch a massive manhunt that eventually led to an unfortunate encounter with a Channel 3 Eyewitness News crew in the area.
The chaotic chain of events began around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday at a home on Tunxis Lane. Police said they received a call asking someone to check on a resident that had not been seen or heard from in quite some time.
"Initially when the police tried to make contact with the defendant, he surprised them, ambushed them and shot an officer, striking him in the arm and then fled the scene," said officials at court Wednesday.
Dozens of law enforcement officials rushed to the scene, including Connecticut State Police troopers, K-9 units and the CSP helicopter, Trooper One.
Willimantic Police Chief Lisa Maruzo-Bolduc said off-duty officers rushed to the scene after getting word of the shooting and manhunt to assist in any way possible. She said she believes the actions of the off-duty officers helped capture Samuolis before the situation got worse.
During the massive manhunt, a news crew had an unfortunate encounter with Samuolis. A photographer captured him walking out of the woods behind a home and pointed his gun to his temple. At that point, Samuolis noticed the crew and pointed the gun in their direction.
The photographer immediately backed away before shots could be heard coming from the area where Samuolis had been standing.
"Just saw the suspect fire shots. My photographer and I hit the ground, called 911," Channel 3 Eyewitness News reporter Kim Lucey tweeted. "Suspect was wearing tan shorts, vest. Made motion he was going to shoot himself, shot toward street instead."
A short time later, Samuolis was brought into custody with the help of a K-9 unit. At the time of his arrest, Samuolis was wearing a tan vest and had something smeared on his face. He was brought to a hospital to be treated for dog bites and then transferred to the police station.
Police would not release much information about the police officer that was shot and only said he has been a member of the Willimantic Police Department for the past six years and is married with no children.
"It's stressful for the officers, for the officers' families, and we are very happy everyone is doing well at this time," Maruzo-Bolduc said.
She said the officer was shot in the arm and was brought to the hospital where he was listed in stable condition.
Suspect Appears in Court
Samuolis faced a judge in Danielson Superior Court Wednesday afternoon.
His public defender revealed Samuolis, who was in an oversized red jumpsuit with messy hair and a scratched face, currently collects Social Security. He has been on disability for a significant period of time.
"There is a significant mental health history here that will come apparent as we deal with the case and other cases that may arise out of this case," said his public defender.
Samuolis, who has no criminal history, was arraigned on the following charges:
Three counts of criminal attempted assault on a public safety officer
Three counts of attempted first-degree assault
Breach of peace
Unlawful discharge of a firearm
Interfering with a police officer
During the arraignment, Samuolis' public defender asked if there could be no more questioning of his client, but that request was denied by the judge. The ruling means the police can still question Samuolis.
Samuolis, who is unemployed and dropped out of school, according to court documents, only lifted his head once and tried to look around. The guard told him to look forward.
Neighbor Nelson Alba wanted to see what was going on for himself.
"He didn't associate with anybody," he said he remembers Samuolis as a child. "He used to be inside most of the times and didn't want to play with little kids."
Alba said the neighborhood was worried about Samuolis' father, who he lived with, after not seeing him for a month.
"Three people, who live around there said 'I think it's time for someone to go there and go knocking on its door,'" Alba said. "And finally the police did that and you guys know what happened last night."
After his court appearance, Samuolis' bail was set at $1 million and ordered a mental health evaluation . His next court appearance is July 26.
The investigation is still ongoing, and more charges may be filed.
Neighbors React to the Arrest
As the intensity of the situation began to wind down Tuesday and more information was learned, police said they returned to the home where the entire ordeal began and said a man was found dead inside.
"I'm really thankful that the man didn't come in our backyard," neighbor Mark Graves Jr. said. "I'm really thankful that my family is OK and that no gunshots went off and ricocheted in my house and that no innocent bystanders are dead. That's all I'm thankful for."
Law enforcement officials said the chief medical examiner performed an autopsy on the body, however, on Wednesday the body had not been identified.
Police said they recovered a long rifle at the home, and when Samuolis was arrested they recovered a handgun.
They would not say which gun was used to shoot the officer.
Neighbors told Eyewitness News they still can't believe the quiet cul-de-sac turned into a crime scene.
"He don't say hi to anybody," said neighbor Henrique Garcia. "The only time you'd see him was when he'd cut the grass, pick up the mail, that was it."
Samuolis lived with his father John inside the raised ranch on Tunxis Lane, neighbors said. His mom passed away a few years ago, they added.
Neighbors told Eyewitness News Tuesday morning three cruisers showed up for a well-being check. Officers called the house, knocked on the door and even used a neighbor's ladder to look into a back window.
Moments later, there was gunfire from inside and an injured officer jumped out of a second-floor window.
"The thing we heard was 'officer down, officer down, we need back up,'" Garcia said.
Garcia added that while growing up Samuolis never socialized with any of the neighboring kids.
"He was always in the house," he said. "Ever since he was a kid, never played with other kids outside."
Neighbors told Eyewitness News Tunxis Lane is a quiet, close-knit neighborhood, but they said Samuolis didn't interact with a lot of folks, often staying inside and by himself.
State police said there is no history of police going to the home of Samuolis.
A number of deliveries from UPS were made to the home, neighbors said.
"UPS would be over here almost every day, constantly," Garcia said. "I'm sure the guns came through the mail. I'm almost sure because John never had a gun."
Garcia told Eyewitness News it appears his initial fear, has now become a reality.
"I kept telling the neighbors something happened over here," Garcia said. "Because we hadn't seen the old man for the last three or four months. The car had been sitting in the driveway since February."
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