October 22, 2014

Medina
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SWAT shot, injured hostage in Brunswick standoff

A state investigation concluded a SWAT team shot and injured Rahna Fahringer on Dec. 1 as authorities tried to end a 30-hour standoff in which she was held hostage in her Brunswick home by her former boyfriend.

The report, written by Special Agent Arvin Clar from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, found bullets from the guns of the Southwest Enforcement Bureau SWAT team struck Fahringer in the arm and hand as they fired at Terrance Abel, 39, ending the standoff at Fahringer’s home at 1528 Jefferson Ave.

Rahna Fahringer, who was shot in the hand and arm as SWAT team members ended a 30-hour standoff at her Brunswick home.

The report also concluded the SWAT team’s actions helped rescue Fahringer.

“It is very possible that the victim, Rahna Fahringer’s, hand and arm came between the officer’s muzzle and the intended target Terrance Abel, during her unpredictable and sudden movements while attempting to distance herself and retreat from Terrence Abel,” the report said.

Abel, who was Fahringer’s ex-boyfriend, died later that evening of his injuries.

Fahringer sustained injuries to her right arm and left hand.

Findings

The report found Abel sustained a gunshot wound to his head from the 9 mm semi-automatic Smith and Wesson handgun in his possession. Six bullets from SWAT team weapons were recovered from Abel’s body.

A final report from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet been released showing whether Abel died of the self-inflicted wound, gunshot wounds to the chest from officers, or a combination of both.

Fahringer, 46, is still recovering from her injuries, which included a gunshot wound to her leg she received from Abel just after he entered the house.

Her ex-husband, Mark Fahringer, is helping Rahna, a mother of two, get to her doctor’s appointments.

Mark Fahringer said Rahna still needs physical therapy to regain the full use of her hand. He said doctors said she wouldn’t be able to return to work until September at the earliest.

“She’s still working through her recovery,” he said.

Rahna Fahringer said Thursday she isn’t ready to comment on the findings in the BCI report, but during an interview in March, she said she was grateful for the actions of the SWAT team, even if it was friendly fire that struck her.

“I don’t care who shot them. I’m just glad to be alive,” she told The Gazette.

The details of how Fahringer was injured and how law enforcement entered the house were not immediately made public by Brunswick police in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Police Chief Carl DeForest said he didn’t want to comment on the details while BCI was conducting the investigation.

When asked about the BCI report on Thursday, DeForest said it backs up the actions of officers.

“The actions of the officers who entered that room that evening saved her life,” DeForest said.

He wouldn’t say whether the details of the report might lead to a change in procedures for tactical situations.

“We always look at what was done and how it was done and look to see if there’s anything we would change in the future,” he said.

Timeline

The report chronicles how SWAT team members entered the house and when they entered the barricaded back bedroom to free Fahringer.

Abel took Fahringer hostage at gunpoint at about 1:30 p.m. Nov. 30.

Two Brunswick police vehicles sit in the driveway of 1528 Jefferson Ave., Brunswick, the morning after Terrance Abel was fatally shot after holding Rahna Fahringer hostage for 30 hours. (GAZETTE FILE PHOTO)

The investigation found Abel, who had prior felony convictions for burglary and theft, purchased the 9 mm Smith and Wesson he brought to her home through a private sale using a false name.

The investigation found he purchased the 25 9 mm rounds he carried with him only hours before he arrived on Jefferson Avenue.

The report found he fired three rounds during the 30 hours he was in the house — one round was fired into the dining room floor, a second was fired at Fahringer’s leg, breaking the bone, and the final round was fired into his head during the moments SWAT team members entered the room.

Abel barricaded himself and Fahringer in a back bedroom shortly after entering the house and before officers arrived.

Abel’s brother called police to warn them he believed Abel had a gun and was headed to Fahringer’s house.

“My brother’s got a gun and he’s going to his ex-girlfriend’s house to shoot her,” he told a 911 dispatcher just after 1:30 p.m. Nov. 30.

Brunswick officers surrounded the home by 1:45 p.m. and Brunswick Officer John Fink took command of the scene.

Fink summoned the Southwest Enforcement Bureau, which includes members from Brunswick city and Brunswick Hills and Hinckley townships and more than a dozen Cuyahoga County communities, including Strongsville, Berea and Parma.

SEB includes hostage negotiators and SWAT team members.

Communication was established between negotiators and Abel and was maintained throughout the 30-hour standoff.

In the early morning of Dec. 1, members of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team broke into the front of the house using an armored vehicle. Though the front door was open, entry wasn’t made into the house.

SEB first-responders were told to go home to rest and to report back in the afternoon if the hostage situation had not been resolved. A second SEB unit took over. At 3:50 p.m. Dec. 1, first-responders were called back to assist with the standoff.

Home entered

At about 5 p.m. Dec. 1, Abel told negotiators he wanted food, and SEB members began to devise an entry plan.

Abel requested lunch meat, bread and cookies from the kitchen. The plan called for Brunswick officers to enter the kitchen to retrieve the food while “stealth” officers from SEB entered the home to take up tactical positions near the back bedroom, hopefully without alerting Abel to their presence, according to the report.

The stealth team included an officer from the Parma Heights Police Department, three Strongsville officers and a Middleburg Heights officer.

Three of the five stealth officers’ names were redacted from the report because they fired their weapons at Abel and were named “uncharged suspects” in the report.

A letter to The Gazette from Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office included with the redacted report said names of uncharged suspects are not subject to public disclosure.

Stealth team members entered the home wearing only their “soft” bulletproof vests and side arms.

One officer wore night-vision goggles and another was equipped with a “fiber-optic” viewing system.

They took up positions inside the home while Brunswick officers gathered food in the kitchen.

A Strongsville officer was positioned outside the bedroom window where Abel was holding Fahringer. The food was delivered to the window and Abel was asked to put his hands outside the window.

The officer attempted to use an electronic stunning device and to handcuff Abel. As the Strongsville officer fired the device, he missed Abel’s hands and Abel ducked back into the bedroom.

Officers inside were told to “go, go, go” and enter the bedroom.

Two members of the stealth team used force to break down the bedroom door, which was heavily barricaded.

One officer managed to get his right arm and head inside the cracked door and reported he saw Abel’s gun pointed at Fahringer’s head. That officer fired his gun at Abel, hitting him twice in the chest. A second officer then entered the room and fired his weapon at Abel, who dropped his weapon and fell to the floor, the report said.

The report does not include any explanation about when or how Abel may have shot himself. All interviews with the officers said they saw Abel pointing the gun towards Fahringer, they recalled firing shots at Abel’s chest and then recall him dropping the gun.

Putting the pieces together

The report from BCI includes interviews with all five stealth team members, a Brunswick detective, two other SEB members, Fahringer, an employee with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office and a review of SEB training records.

The records show all SEB members attended training sessions and were up to date.

Most of the summary of the interview with the medical examiner employee is redacted from the report because preliminary findings and investigative notes from the coroner are not open to public scrutiny.

The interview with Fahringer matched the officers’ timeline of events; however, she reported she was feeling sick and very dizzy from blood loss during the final day of the standoff and couldn’t remember all of the day’s events with detail.

She told officers she did recall Abel attempting to get food from the bedroom window. She said she heard a “pop-pop” noise and people entering the bedroom.

She said Abel told her she wouldn’t leave the house alive and felt him put a gun to her side. She said she covered her eyes and her chest with her hands when the shooting started and then rolled off the bed onto the floor.

“Rahna states that she can feel her arm and hand being shot as she is rolling off the bed and began to scream,” the report said.

The report found all the interviews with officers involved in Fahringer’s rescue were consistent with one another.

“BCI S/A Clar (Special Agent Arvin Clar) has not found any evidence to contradict or call in to question the statements of the officers and witnesses,” the report said. “The SEB Unit’s actions attributed to the successful safe rescue of the victim.”

Brunswick’s Chief DeForest said he is thankful for the support of every law enforcement officer at the standoff.

“I appreciate all of the hard work that everyone on the scene put in, especially Officer John Fink who oversaw much of the tactical operations,” he said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.