2 dead, one wounded in Stillwater shootout

  • Article by: VINCE TUSS and ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: December 12, 2009 - 8:35 AM

Stillwater man shoots and kills wife, injures daughter and is then killed by police.

Even when Kathleen Gavegnano heard "a terrible scream" at her Stillwater apartment building late Friday afternoon, she didn't think anything was wrong.

But when the 79-year-old entered the hallway, she encountered a horrifying sight.

Her longtime neighbor, the building's caretaker, lay gravely wounded in the abdomen. The 62-year-old woman was conscious and able to indicate that she had been shot by her husband.

"She said, 'If he dies, I want to die,'" Gavegnano said.

And they did Friday, with a second woman injured. The 62-year-old man was shot and killed by a Stillwater police officer after he refused to put down his gun and fired at the officer, officials said.

Neighbors identified the couple as Gertrude (Trudy) and Gerald Propps, with the woman known around the building as Trudy. The second woman was the adult daughter of one of the Proppses, neighbors said, adding that Gerald Propps had been battling a number of illnesses recently.

The bloody drama at the Victoria Villa apartments, 1451 S. Greeley St., began about 4:30 p.m. Washington County dispatchers received a 911 call from the 62-year-old woman because her husband needed medical care, Stillwater police Sgt. Jeff Stender said. While the woman was on the phone with police, the dispatcher heard gunshots, and the woman was shot, he added.

Police were on their way when they were told that the nature of the call had changed, and more officers rushed to the apartment, he said.

One officer "arrived before everyone else and responded how he's been trained," Stender said.

The officer "did enter the apartment under fire," he added, and was forced to shoot after the man refused the officer's order to drop his weapon. The officer is a 15-year, full-time veteran of the force and was put on standard administrative leave, he added.

The older woman was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where she was pronounced dead. The younger woman was taken to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater with minor injuries, Stender said.

'Drop the gun!' Then, gunfire

Another resident, Bobby Yates, said he was watching a movie with his son in their apartment when he heard a gunshot sometime after 4 p.m.

Yates said he ran out into the hall and saw the younger woman trying to drag Trudy Propps out of the apartment. The younger woman was screaming and appeared to have been shot in the arm, he added.

Yates said he rushed to their aid and quickly helped move the older woman out of the apartment before slamming the apartment door shut. Trudy appeared to have been shot in the back and had an exit wound in the chest, he said.

Yates said he thought two police officers came into the hallway and into the apartment. He heard police say, "Drop the gun!" then heard gunfire, and bullets came through the wall.

'My kitchen is a crime scene'

Gavegnano, a 30-year resident of the building, ended up with three bullets in her unit.

"My kitchen is a crime scene," she said. "He put three bullets through my kitchen wall. It's a horror show here."

She said she was awaiting a visit from her pastor about 4:30 p.m. when she heard that scream. She assumed it was one of the children in her building. Just then, her buzzer went off, and she went to meet her pastor.

"When I went to open my apartment door, my neighbor said, 'Get back in!'" Gavegnano said, her voice shaking. She went to get her minister nonetheless, "and when I came back, there was [the female apartment manager] lying in the corridor. She had been shot."

Trudy Propps was still conscious, with a gunshot wound to the torso, she said.

Gavegnano, who said she knew the Proppses well, said Gerald had been scheduled for surgery for aneurysms and was on medication that seemed to make him angry and stressed.

The man killed by police was being treated for several medical conditions, Stender said, adding that Stillwater police and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are investigating.

Gavegnano said Gerald once worked in law enforcement in Kentucky, which is why he had a gun.

"It's a pathetic situation," Gavegnano said. "It's just sad that it had to turn so violent. It's horrible, horrible for all of us."

vtuss@startribune.com • 612-673-7692 asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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