Man killed after lengthy hostage situation escalates

bclark@modbee.com and pguerra@modbee.comMarch 20, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian Clark
    Title: Senior Editor, Digital
    Coverage areas: Breaking news
    Bio: A Berkeley native, Brian graduated from San Diego State University in 1986. His newspaper stops included 18-month stints at the Turlock Journal and The Las Vegas Review-Journal before accepting a job in Modesto in 1990. While at The Bee, he's worked as a sports and news copy editor, sports editor and weekend news editor before joining the online team in 2008.
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Details emerged Thursday on what happened during an 11-hour standoff that ended with the predawn morning shooting of an elderly Modesto man by police.

Officers shot and killed the 87-year-old man after he assaulted his wife, held her hostage overnight and then pointed a gun at officers, authorities said.

A neighbor said Thursday that police tried for hours to get the suspect to give up.

Relatives Wednesday night identified the couple as Howard Tungseth and his wife, Marjorie, also 87. Reached Thursday, relatives said they did not want to comment.

The standoff began at about 6 p.m. Wednesday, when officers responded to a domestic violence call in the 1600 block of Evona Court, near Carver Road and Mt. Vernon Avenue. The caller indicated a man had assaulted his wife, police said.

When officers arrived, they learned the suspect had a handgun and would not let his wife leave the home. Police tried to talk to him, but he refused to leave the house and started threatening officers, who could see him walking into different rooms in the house, holding a handgun.

Hostage negotiators arrived and tried to communicate with Tungseth, to no avail.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she heard police repeatedly plead with Tungseth to come out of the house.

“You’re in charge, Howard,” they told him through a bullhorn, the neighbor said. “They really tried to talk to him for a long time.” Eventually, police sent a robot into the home, the neighbor said.

“As the night progressed, the suspect continued to not comply with us and continued to act irate,” Lt. Rick Armendariz said Thursday. Tungseth also threatened to burn down the house, Armendariz said.

His wife, meanwhile, pleaded for help from officers. Investigators learned she had several health problems, and had been “physically immobilized,” Armendariz said in a news release.

Officials decided to rescue the woman, and a SWAT team entered the home about 4:20 a.m. As they were getting the woman, the man confronted them, aiming a handgun at officers, Armendariz said.

At least one officer shot at the man, who was declared dead at the scene. An ambulance took the woman to an area hospital for treatment.

It’s not yet clear if the suspect fired his gun, Armendariz said. But no officers were hurt.

The neighbor said she heard a series of shots she presumed came from Tungseth, followed by a shot from police. Officers carried Marjorie Tungseth out of the house, but not her husband.

“I thought, oh, no, ‘What happened?’ ” the neighbor said.

Armendariz said the two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, standard procedure in such cases.

Police and crime scene technicians remained at the scene for much of Thursday.

Three agencies will conduct parallel investigations into the incident, also standard procedure, Armendariz said. Modesto police will be handle the criminal investigation, the Stanislaus County district attorney’s office will be conducting an independent criminal review, and the Modesto Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit will be conducting an administrative investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

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