Girls' alleged rapes add to terror left by Woodbury motel rampage

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2012 - 7:12 AM

Charges against a Stillwater man detail four horrible hours with 11 hostages, some as young as 15.

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One person was killed and another was arrested at the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury during a hostage situation early Friday morning. The man who died was shot by police as he tried to escape the alleged hostage-taker. Police said they thought the man had fired a shot and was armed.

A Stillwater man accused of raping four 15- and 16-year-old girls in a Woodbury motel bathroom during a standoff with police last week also may have shot one of his hostages, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

While the young men he held hostage Friday pleaded that he stop raping the women, Demetrius S. Ballinger continued the sexual attacks while holding a loaded pistol in one hand, according to a criminal complaint that charges him with 27 felonies.

Ballinger, 25, is accused of a four-hour reign of terror involving 11 hostages, six of them minors. Among them was a 19-year-old man who died after being shot repeatedly -- apparently first by the alleged gunman and then by Woodbury police officers as he fled from the room at the Red Roof Inn.

The horror for a group of young friends who had gathered for a Thursday night party in Room 217 finally ended when hostage negotiators talked Ballinger into surrendering early Friday.

"How frightened those people must have been," prosecutor Fred Fink said. "Obviously, our hats are off to the hostage negotiators who were able to de-escalate the situation and make sure that no one else was killed or seriously hurt. We could have had bodies upon bodies in there."

Mark Eric Henderson Jr., 19, of St. Paul, is believed to have been hit by a bullet or two that Ballinger fired from inside the room, Fink, criminal division chief with the Washington County Attorney's Office, said on Tuesday.

"It's our belief that he did, but we'll know more after the autopsy," Fink said of the suspicion that Ballinger shot Henderson, who was unarmed.

Until now, all the shots that claimed the teen's life were thought to have come from three Woodbury police officers who fired at Henderson when he walked out of the motel room. Officers said that they believed he had a gun and that he didn't follow their commands to stop. He died of gunshot wounds after being taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

An autopsy was being conducted by the Ramsey County medical examiner's office but no information was released Tuesday on how many times Henderson had been shot. Fink recalled Ballinger saying he shot twice at Henderson. Police have not said how many times they fired.

Ballistic tests are underway by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the police officers' actions. The officers are on paid administrative leave.

The shooting of Henderson came shortly after 1:10 a.m. Friday, after a 911 call from inside the Red Roof Inn. Ballinger had pulled out a gun and tried to rob the young hostages, some of whom he knew, of cash and cellphones, authorities said.

One of the teenage girls dialed 911 before throwing her cellphone into a pile with the others. That created an open line that allowed a Washington County dispatcher to listen and send help.

Fink said that teen's ability to keep her wits about her and dial 911 helped avert more casualties.

On Tuesday, Washington County District Judge Tad Jude set bail at $1 million for Ballinger, who has admitted to many of the crimes, court documents say.

He was charged with attempted murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, robbery and assaults with a weapon.

The Associated Press reported that police have been called to the Red Roof Inn, just off Interstate 494, more than 130 times this year for incidents including underage consumption, disturbing the peace, drug possession and domestic assault. In August, police were called to the motel more than two dozen times, according to a log of calls for service. Motel management did not return calls from the Associated Press.

Began with a party

According to the court documents, the ordeal unfolded this way:

Ballinger was in the motel room at a party when he became frustrated and pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun, threatening to shoot them.

"Empty your pockets, give me your money and cellphones," he ordered.

Officers arrived and from a balcony, they looked through a window and saw Ballinger holding a handgun.

"The defendant turned and pointed the handgun directly at one of the officers," the complaint said. Officers retreated and regrouped as others arrived.

Henderson tried to run from the room then, and as he did, Ballinger fired at him, the charges say. Later, Ballinger admitted that he fired the gun "to hit him" and that he knew doing so could kill Henderson.

Outside the motel room, police heard the shots. Then the door opened.

Woodbury police would later tell BCA agents that they believed that Henderson had a weapon and was not compliant with officer commands, so officers fired. No information has been released on what Henderson did that was interpreted by police as being noncompliant and what led them to incorrectly believing he had a gun.

An ambulance was summoned, and Washington County's Special Response Team was called in.

Ballinger had ordered the four girls to get into the bathroom and ordered them to remove their clothes, according to the documents. He raped and sodomized them even as the young men being held in the room pleaded with him to stop. Later, he admitted that he knew that he was going to jail, "so he might as well get some."

Negotiators with Special Response Team, including a Woodbury police officer, persuaded Ballinger to surrender about 5 a.m.

The charges say Ballinger admitted to shooting the gun at Henderson with the intent to hit him, to sexually penetrating the four teen girls, to holding all 11 victims against their will and to taking the hostages' property at gunpoint.

The prosecutor said he hadn't seen any information indicating what set off Ballinger on his spree.

"It had to be horrifying for those kids," Fink said.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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