Friday, December 12, 1997
Caller did all he could

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brian Downing stands on Hollister Street near where he saw a terrified-looking Alonzo Davenport with a gun last Friday.
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Brian Downing could have been the last man to look Alonzo Davenport in the eye Friday before the gunman, after killing two police officers, shot himself.

And while miscommunications distracted police during most of the hour that followed, Mr. Downing did everything right.

Seconds after hearing two shots on West Hollister Street, Mr. Downing had watched from the opposite sidewalk as Mr. Davenport fled an apartment at 23 W. Hollister. Clutching a revolver, Mr. Davenport stopped in the middle of the street, wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, and caught his neighbor's eye for an instant.

''It was like he couldn't believe what he just did,'' recalled Mr. Downing, unaware at the time that two Cincinnati officers lay dying inside the nearby apartment. ''It was a look of terror."

For Mr. Davenport, the terror ended moments after he brushed by Mr. Downing, ran three blocks to a park at Jefferson Avenue and Calhoun Street, and turned the gun on himself. But back on Hollister Street, the horror continued to unfold as Mr. Downing dialed 911.

Mr. Downing, 26, recalled that night's tragedy in an interview with the Enquirer Thursday. Focused on speeding emergency response to the shootings, he alone cut through confusion that delayed police from aiding two dying co-workers.

Only minutes, blocks and two police jurisdictions separated the suicide from the gunned-down officers, causing some to mistake Mr. Davenport's death as the only shooting. Meanwhile, miscommunications between dispatchers and officers diverted police from Hollister Street.

Forty-five minutes passed between Mr. Downing's 11:59 p.m. 911 call - corroborated in frantic detail by Marvin Jones' 911 report of two dying ''cops'' - and the discovery of Mr. Davenport's victims. Mr. Jones, a friend who was staying at Mr. Davenport's apartment, called 911 while two female guests fled.

''Even though it was 45 minutes, I still had the utmost confidence in the police,'' said Mr. Downing, a Corryville bartender who recognizes most District 4 and 5 cops, including the slain men. ''I just knew I had to do something to make sure somebody showed up.''

Investigations continue into why the emergency response lagged so far behind Mr. Downing's and Mr. Jones' coinciding 911 calls. But one thing is clear: Brian Downing's insistence that Mr. Davenport's death was not the neighborhood's lone shooting finally drew police to their fatally wounded comrades.

''I don't know how much longer they would have lain there if (Brian) hadn't walked up to me,'' said Cincinnati police Spc. George Pille, whom Mr. Downing approached around 12:40 a.m. Saturday outside the Calhoun Street McDonald's.

Twenty minutes earlier an impatient Mr. Downing had called police a second time - directly to District 4 desk Officer Chad Richter. Police logs show Officer Richter radioed a dispatcher within two minutes, asking if District 5 had investigated the 911 report. While Officer Richter persuaded dispatch supervisors to investigate the call, Mr. Downing waited.

He shivered outside his carriage house at 31 W. Hollister, watching for the flash of ambulance lights. Learning from a passerby about the throng of police at Jefferson and Calhoun, Mr. Downing set out to find an officer he could personally alert to the shootings.

When the Clifton Heights man and a friend hurried toward Spc. Pille's police truck, he rolled down his window to ask what concerned them.

''He wanted to know why we weren't responding to the shots,'' Spc. Pille recalled Wednesday before attending Officer Pope's funeral. ''In the confusion (police) thought everything was one incident.''

Spc. Pille had heard no dispatches about the Hollister Street shootings. Mr. Downing ''led me to (Mr. Davenport's) house and four other officers followed me down there,'' said Spc. Pille, who reached 23 W. Hollister about 12:44 a.m.

Entering in groups through separate doors, the five men - including two who would become Officer Pope's pallbearers - entered the first-floor apartment and found the fallen, plainclothes police.

When Sgt. Christopher Ruehmer and Officers Scott Fritz, Sam Igel and Dan Carder returned outside, their grief-stricken expressions told Mr. Downing the victims were fellow officers.

''They were consoling each other,'' recalled Mr. Downing, who waited with his friend outside in the police truck. ''It was very obvious to me.''

A week later, as family and friends buried the two officers, Mr. Downing does not second-guess the events. He attributes Saturday morning's confusion to human error and heart-breaking coincidence. ''Somebody screwed up,'' he said matter-of-factly. ''But I screw up everyday.''

Though he knew the officers' faces, Mr. Downing said he relates more to their families: ''If somebody had shot my wife, I'd be glad that somebody was willing to call the cops and pursue it.

''At the time, I did everything I possibly could.''

Today's report

Jeter visitation: Tears burn once more
Caravan will head up I-71 to funeral
Hundreds attend killer's funeral
Public feels guilt, sadness
Web sites, memorials, tributes

Thursday's report

A hero's farewell: Officer Pope laid to rest
Homily: Faith eases hurt, anger
Piper's sad song sends a fallen fellow officer home Cliff Radel column
Spc. Jeter's visitation today

Wednesday's report

Pope visitation: Thousands pay their respects
Witness: Killer hid gun in pants
Pastor hopes funeral brings peace
Spc. Jeter's organs donated

Tuesday's report

911 boss admits error likely
Borgman cartoon
Shock, grief and guilt Laura Pulfer column
City thanks slain heroes
Killer's family visits his home
Many officers limited in experience
Forces across Tristate take heed
Names to be added to memorial

Monday's report

Argument preceded shooting
Tragedy puts face on job Cliff Radel column
Families lean on faith, memories
Friends, acquaintances mourn
Grief stays, say families who know
Police deaths declining

Sunday's report

Community mourns fallen officers
Suspect's family: He was 'respectful'
Sequence of events
Officers highly regarded
Officers deal with sorrow, job's risks
Chief's message: 'Take care of each other'
Hollister St. residents shocked