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'We tried to de-escalate it'

Though police had been negotiating with an armed, mentally ill man who'd barricaded himself inside a west Medford house for 19 hours, the tragic outcome Tuesday came down to the final two minutes.

"We tried to de-escalate it," Medford police Chief Tim George said Thursday in an interview with the Mail Tribune. "It seemed like it was pretty calm, and then, 'boom.' What turned on a dime was, all of a sudden was, 'boom' — the round goes off inside the house."

Andrew Charles Shipley, 49, was shot and killed by police after he reportedly fired one shot inside the house and then pointed a high-powered hunting rifle at officers and fired. George said he was saddened by the fatal outcome, but that he did not see that officers had an option to do anything differently.

"As far as effort goes, I think everybody was hopeful where it was going, that we were going to peacefully resolve this, but it didn't happen," George said. "I can't understand why it flipped like that at 10:30 in the morning."

Shipley had been living at the home of his girlfriend at 360 Argyle Court when the shooting occurred. His mental health had been declining for days, if not weeks, George said.

Dalton Keehnen, 18, boyfriend of the daughter of Shipley's girlfriend, told the Mail Tribune in a phone interview Thursday that days before the shooting, Shipley had started making statements about Armageddon and the rapture in broken sentences, didn't sleep and was angry.

Keehnen said he spent Saturday night with a chair propped against the door in the room where he was sleeping for fear Shipley would come in. He said Shipley would wander out into the living room where Shipley's girlfriend slept and just stand there.

"We were worried he might snap in the middle of the night," Keehnen said.

On Sunday, they called police several times as Shipley's delusional behavior continued. He yelled at them, grabbed their two dogs away from them and banged on the front door, Keehnen said. There were firearms inside the home. Shipley's girlfriend had hoped to evict him and to get him some help.

When officers arrived the third time, Shipley had locked himself inside and his girlfriend was outside. Because they could not contact him and he had made no direct threats, the officers said they couldn't arrest Shipley.

"I feel like they really could have done more and it didn't have to end in this type of situation," Keehnen said. "We did not think it was going to end this way. We thought we were going to call the police, have them peacefully remove him from the home.

"I don't see why they were not able to do anything whatsoever with anything. We gave them everything they needed to do something."

George said he believes that leaving Shipley alone at that time was the right decision, as forcing entry could have escalated the situation.

"If anything, their (the officers') de-escalation probably prevented something from happening on Sunday," George said. "I think their actions on Sunday prevented something from happening on Sunday into Monday."

But on Monday, Shipley started making direct threats. His sister arrived from New York, hoping to calm him down. He gave her one of the guns and a large knife. She fled the home with them and called police, telling them there were more firearms inside.

A SWAT team, negotiators and mental health counselors arrived at Argyle Court and evacuated nearby houses. Officials stayed in touch with Shipley through phone calls and text messages for 19 hours until about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, when a shift change began. That's when officers reportedly heard the first gunshot inside the home.

"First thing we're thinking is, 'He killed himself. He ended this thing,'" George said.

But snipers positioned on a nearby rooftop saw him still moving inside the home. Police later said they suspect Shipley had shot one of the family's two dogs, whose body was found in a different part of the home. Two minutes later, the garage door rolled up partway. Police said Shipley fired a single shot from the hunting rifle while prone on the garage floor. Where that shot went and who saw or heard it is still being investigated by Oregon State Police, the lead agency on the Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit.

Seven officers returned fire. Shipley died at the scene. The officers have been put on paid administrative leave until a grand jury decides whether the shooting was justified.

George said the officers had no alternative to firing on Shipley. The bullet from the high-powered rifle Shipley used would penetrate through the type of protective vests the officers wear and failing to stop him then could have meant that he would "walk out on the porch or driveway and start shooting people."

"That's why we did what we did," he said.

George said his department trains for incidents such as Tuesday's standoff and has been using crisis-intervention techniques frequently, as officers have been faced with mental health calls of an "epidemic proportion." In January  through February alone, he said, the department responded to 108 suicide and attempted suicide calls, and mental health related calls overall were up by more than 25 percent over each of the previous two years.

"The amount of time and energy those calls take, it really stretches us," George said, adding that his department relies on and has a strong working relationship with mental health workers at Jackson County and elsewhere in the community.

Staying in communication with people in crisis is key, he said. Officers often talk to them about anything but the crisis at hand until they're calm and ready. He said it works most times.

"We've had pretty good success with talking people out. Not this one, unfortunately," George said.

Keehnen said Shipley's girlfriend and daughter are still shaken by Tuesday's shooting, but that they're all trying to push forward.

"We're just going to try and move on and deal with this," Keehnen said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Medford police Chief Tim George meets with the media Tuesday shortly after the shooting. On Thursday he said his officers had no alternative to firing on a mentally ill man who had fired a rifle at them. Mail Tribune/ Bob Pennell