Tragedy struck the city of Pittsburgh early on the morning of April 4, 2009, when a young white supremacist allegedly killed three Pittsburgh police officers responding to a domestic violence call.
Police received a 911 call around 7:00 am that morning from the suspect's mother, Margaret Poplawski, describing an argument she had had with her son. Two officers, Paul Sciullo III and Stephen Mayhle, responded to the call. Another officer, Eric Kelly, who had finished his shift and was driving to his home in the same neighborhood, decided voluntarily to provide backup to the responding officers.
Arriving at the residence, Sciullo and Mayhle were let in by Margaret Poplawski, who asked them to remove her son. However, the officers had only walked a few feet into the house when they were allegedly met by son Richard Poplawski. The officers did not know that Richard Poplawski was a white supremacist and conspiracy theorist who in recent months had exhibited growing anger at the police and government.
Protected by a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK-47,
allegedly opened fire at point-blank range at the two officers, killing them almost immediately. It was at this time that Officer Kelly arrived in his personal vehicle. Poplawski allegedly opened fire at Kelly as well, mortally wounding him, though not before Kelly had called on his radio for help.
Other officers arrived within minutes, creating a standoff and gun battle that lasted for several hours, during which Poplawski allegedly fired at at least nine other law enforcement officers. One officer was shot in the hand while trying to pull Kelly to safety. Poplawski himself was hit in the legs several times during the shootout. Thinking he was or would be fatally injured, Poplawski began calling friends on his cell phone during the standoff to say goodbye. However, he was instead captured by police and taken to a hospital for treatment. The mother, who had been hiding in the basement during the standoff, was unharmed.
Poplawski, 22, has been charged with three counts of murder, nine counts of attempted homicide, possessing an instrument of crime (his bulletproof vest), firing weapons into neighboring homes and recklessly endangering civilians with gunfire.
The three police officers were the first police officers to be killed by domestic extremists in 2009. There were no such murders in 2008, but five in 2007.
The triple murder was the worst incident of white supremacist violence in Pittsburgh for nearly a decade. In April 2000, Richard Baumhammers, a white supremacist attorney, embarked upon a racially motivated shooting spree targeting ethnic and religious minorities that resulted in five people killed and others wounded (one of whom would later die, in 2007, as a result of complications from the injuries he received).