SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Worried about an escalating conflict, Amanda Connors drove up to the door of the hair salon she managed and confronted her employee's boyfriend, who had just kidnapped his two kids after being hit with a protection order and domestic violence arrest.
The heroic decision cost Connors her life, but the mother's was spared.
Police said Connors was leaving the Sioux Falls salon Tuesday afternoon when she saw Tyrone Leeon Smith, 38, with the kids in the parking lot. She phoned the store from her car to warn her employees, including Smith's girlfriend, then pulled her car up. Smith exchanged words with Connors as he stood in the Cost Cutters doorway before fatally shooting Connors in the head.
As her red sedan accelerated into a parked SUV, Smith ducked inside, fired another shot and then zip-tied his girlfriend and her three co-workers.
A half hour later, Smith let the employees go and put a bullet in his head, police said.
"I personally don't think his intent was to go to that scene and to kill Amanda," said Sioux Falls police Chief Doug Barthels. "It was unfortunate that it happened the way it did.
"Frankly, I kind of see her as a hero."
The escalation between Smith and his live-in girlfriend began Sunday evening when Smith was arrested on a domestic assault charge. He walked out of jail Monday after pleading not guilty. Heidi Weber was granted a temporary protection order barring Smith from coming within 500 feet of her, their 7-week-old son, their 17-month daughter, her 9-year-old daughter and their home.
Smith's third ex-wife, Delana Austin of Madison, said Wednesday that she had tried to warn Smith's girlfriend, police, prosecutors and judges about him.
"There's no reason she needed to die," Austin said of Connors. "I've been warning them. I've been trying to tell people. I've been doing it since I've been blue in the face and no one would listen."
Weber in her petition said Smith became angry when he found out she had gone through the phone bill. She said he pushed her onto the bed and put his hands around her neck. Smith's 17-year-old son and the teen's mother, Smith's first wife, filed a second petition saying the teen tried to grab his dad during the confrontation and was threatened.
The incident at Cost Cutters was the first contact between Smith and Weber since the altercation, said Sioux Falls police Capt. Greg VandeKamp. Everything that could have been legally done to protect Weber and the kids was done, he said, noting a protection order simply orders no contact.
"It is a piece of paper," VandeKamp said. "It is an order, and just like a posted speed limit, not everyone is going to obey it."
Just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Smith barged into the baby sitter's house, grabbed the kids, zip-tied the woman to a chair and removed her cellphone's battery. Four minutes later, police received a call about an accident in the salon parking lot. When officers arrived, they found the crashed car and bystanders attending to the bleeding woman. Smith went back inside, locked the doors and fired a shot that went through a wall and grazed an employee's leg. She was not injured, VandeKamp said.
No customers were in the store, but Smith tied up the employees and made it clear he planned to hurt himself. Within a half hour, Weber persuaded Smith to let everyone go. As the employees left, they heard a single gunshot, VandeKamp said.
A SWAT team surrounded the salon and closed off three blocks on Sioux Falls' busiest street. Just before 4 p.m., officers stormed in and found Smith's body.
Cost Cutters remained closed Wednesday. Outside was a makeshift memorial that included candles, teddy bears, flowers, handwritten notes and a pair of black heels with balloons attached.
"It's kind of scary. I never thought anything like this would happen here," 33-year-old Lindsey Iron Road, who stopped to take a picture.
Austin said she had tried to warn Weber before Weber left Smith.
"I just told her, `For safety you don't go back to him. Don't tell him. Don't do anything. Just don't go there,'" she said.
Minnehaha County court records show Austin filed protection orders requests in 2009 and 2010. Both were dismissed at her request. Records also show numerous protection order petitions filed by Smith against Austin, her family members and a friend of hers.
Austin left Smith in September 2010 and went back to her hometown in Indiana. She says Smith filed a protection order falsely accusing her of threatening to kill herself and their daughter.
"He's a chameleon," Austin said. "He could change his persona to meet whoever the judge was to make them feel like he was the victim.
Connors' killing was the second homicide this year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota's largest city, Barthels said.