Family: Hostage didn't have to die

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2012 - 7:17 AM

An unarmed man shot by police at a Woodbury motel was trying to flee his captor, relatives said Saturday.

Mark Eric Henderson Jr. saw his opportunity to escape from the Woodbury motel room where he and seven other people were being held hostage early Friday, and he took it.

When the gunman who had been tormenting the group told Henderson to go to the window to see if any police were outside, Henderson took his chance and made a beeline for the door. The kidnapper opened fire at him in response but missed. As Henderson bolted out the door toward them, Woodbury police opened fire and cut him down.

The 19-year-old St. Paul man died later that day at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

"He tried to get out to save his life," said his mother, Tawana Henderson. "When he opened the hotel door to run out, the police opened fire and killed him."

The man responsible for the nearly four-hour standoff with police at the Red Rood Inn near Valley Creek Road -- Demetrius S. Ballinger, 25, of North St. Paul -- is being held in the Washington County jail. He is expected to be charged Tuesday with aggravated robbery, first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping, police said.

Henderson's relatives expressed grief Saturday over their loss and anger at police for killing one of the hostages they had come to save.

"In a hostage situation, you don't just open fire," his mother said as she stood on her front lawn in St. Paul. She said she had yet to hear the details from authorities, but shared what she had been told by others who were in the motel room. Her story doesn't contradict the account that officials have given of the shooting.

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, three Woodbury police officers responded to a 911 call at the Red Roof Inn, 1806 Wooddale Drive, at 1:10 a.m. Friday. When they arrived at the room, the officers encountered a man who pointed a handgun at them. They retreated and requested additional assistance, according to the BCA.

Officers then heard a gunshot as the door opened and a man, later identified as Henderson, "quickly emerged from the room and came toward them." Officers said they believed that Henderson had a weapon and reported that he didn't comply with their commands, at which point they fired on him. No weapon was recovered from Henderson.

'Get on your knees now!'

Farris Nazzal, a 29-year-old musician staying at the motel, said he was awakened by stomping outside on the walkway, then shouted commands: "'Get on your knees now! Get on your knees now! Freeze! Freeze! Freeze!'"

Nazzal said he heard six or seven gunshots and saw a man lying on the balcony with six or seven officers around him. "'You got me! You got me!'" the man was shouting at police. "He was yelling, and he was in pain," Nazzal added.

The Washington County SWAT team arrived a short time after. Authorities later determined that Ballinger had fired his weapon from inside the motel room. He surrendered just before 5 a.m. Friday after negotiations with the SWAT team.

In addition to the charges he's expected to face Tuesday, Ballinger was being held on old charges related to criminal property damage and disorderly conduct, officials said.

The three Woodbury police officers who fired their weapons are on standard paid administrative leave. They are officer Anthony Ofstead, an 11-year veteran; officer Stacey Krech, who's been with the department for five years, and officer Natalie Martin, who's been with the department for two years.

Ballinger and Henderson had a mutual acquaintance, Henderson's mother said. While Ballinger had come to her house before, she said, she never let him in because she had heard that he carried a gun.

Chaotic scene at motel

On Friday, she said Ballinger picked up her son about 11 p.m. and also picked up others to go to a party at the motel. The last she heard from her son was when he texted her to let her know that they had arrived at the motel. Later, an acquaintance called her daughter to tell her of the shooting.

Later still, someone who was at the party told Henderson's mother what had happened.

Several of the people at the party knew each other from the Boys Totem Town residential correctional facility in St. Paul, Henderson's mother said she was told.

She was told that when one of the young women at the party didn't want to talk to Ballinger, he "flipped out," pulled a gun and demanded that everyone empty their pockets, including their cellphones and wallets. One of the women had called police, which prompted Ballinger to threaten to kill them. The women were forced to undress and pile into the room's bathtub where they were beaten and sexually assaulted by Ballinger, and the men were told to lie on the floor, she said she was told.

When Ballinger ordered her son at gunpoint to go to the window and see if police were outside, Henderson made his bid to escape, his mother said.

His father, Mark Henderson Sr., said it upset him that not just one officer fired at his son but three. "If [suspects] don't have a gun, aren't they trained not to shoot?" he asked.

'Very hurt right now'

Mark Henderson attended Humboldt High School in St. Paul and had been doing factory work through a temp service.

His mother said he liked football and loved to dance.

Mark was her oldest son. She has two girls and one other son, 18.

The younger boy "looked up to him very much," she said. "He's very hurt right now."

Henderson was due to become a father himself next month, with a baby boy expected to be named Mark Eric Henderson III.

"I'm still in disbelief, thinking my son will come walking up the street," Tawana Henderson said. "If I never saw another police officer again, I would be happy."

Staff writer Joy Powell contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

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