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Police mobilize after threats; suspect had only a walking stick

Police held a stick, initially thought to be a rifle, after arresting a man who threatened suicide. Police held a stick, initially thought to be a rifle, after arresting a man who threatened suicide. (JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / October 22, 2011

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IPSWICH - The moment the assistant vice president of a local bank walked into the Ipswich Police Department yesterday afternoon bearing a nicely wrapped loaf cake, she knew it was not a good time.

She announced she was there to drop it off for the chief and to introduce herself, but instead gave it to a dispatcher and wished everyone a good afternoon, as hurried officers walked up and down the station’s hallway.

Police had just arrested a 48-year-old man by the Ipswich River at the County Street Bridge, who police said had threatened to kill himself and hurt police and was believed to be armed with a 4-foot-long rifle. The weapon, which he pointed at police when they arrived, turned out to be a black-and-brown walking stick. The man, whose name was not released, surrendered and was taken to Beverly Hospital for evaluation.

But for several hours, bewildered Ipswich residents wondered why so many police cruisers raced through town, as a State Police helicopter hovered in the sky. During the nearly two-hour episode, streets leading to the bridge were blocked off, and Town Hall, a nearby school, and several homes were evacuated.

Andrea Leroux, who lives on County Street, was on her way to a hair appointment yesterday morning when she saw the road was blocked by police. Although it was a mild sunny day, she thought maybe the river had crested and there was flooding.

She said a police officer told her, that “it was a man with a gun and to keep moving.’’ The fact that all the commotion turned out to be all about a man with a walking stick did not bother her.

“Finding out it was a stick - I’m just relieved,’’ Leroux said. “Evidently, the man said he would kill himself when he called the police. Whether it was a gun or not, I tend to err on the side of caution.’’

Bob Wicks, also a County Street resident, made his way into the police station after the area was cleared, to get his house keys back. Earlier, police went to his home, which is near the bridge where the incident occurred, and asked Wicks to leave the house and his keys, should the police need to use his home during the episode. Despite the unusual morning, Wicks, a 34-year Ipswich resident, did not feel inconvenienced.

“They were doing their job,’’ Wicks said. “They didn’t know what this was going to turn into, and I was just helping out, that’s all. This is a quiet town. These things don’t happen. . . . I’m very pleased with the way the police handled it, and I commend them on the great job they did.’’

Joanne McMahon - a resident of Elm Street, one of the roads that was closed - said the situation as a whole was shocking. When she found out that the man was brandishing a stick, not a rifle, she was relieved.

“Nothing bad happened, so it’s great,’’ McMahon said. “It’s daytime; it’s a populated area. . . . You have to take these things seriously. They didn’t know it was a stick. People get upset about little inconveniences sometimes, and they shouldn’t.’’

The incident began at 10:43 a.m. yesterday, when the man called 911 and, according to Lieutenant Daniel L. Moriarty told police: “I’m going to kill myself. If police show up, I’m well equipped and prepared to fight.’’

Tracing the coordinates of the cellphone, which was owned by the man’s sister, police reportedly found him lying on the rocks by the river. He allegedly pointed the stick, which police believed to be a rifle, at police when they arrived, Moriarty said.

After 90 minutes, the man, who is living in town with his sister, surrendered. He faces charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, threatening to commit a crime, and being a disorderly person.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.