Upper Providence police recall march shooting with gunman

NORRISTOWN – When Upper Providence police officers responded to a mental health emergency at a home in a crowded condominium community in the middle of the night in March, they did not expect to be greeted by a man who fired “round after round” of shots at them.

“To be honest with you, you don’t feel anything at first, you just react, and the practice starts and you get out of the way as fast as you can. I didn’t expect that to happen,” the patrolman recalled of Township John Burdsall, the first officer to arrive on the scene, during a recent interview.

Within nine seconds of exiting his patrol car, Burdsall was shot. A bullet grazed the back of Burdsall’s uniform, tearing it, and struck his radio cord, disabling his police radio during the frantic situation punctuated by a barrage of gunfire.

Upper Providence Police Constable John Burdsall was grazed by a bullet that tore the back of his police uniform. (Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County District Attorney).

“It’s very surreal,” Burdsall said of recalling being brushed off during the March 16 two-hour incident that unfolded at 2:59 a.m., adding that he was “very grateful” not to being injured by the gunshots.

Upper Providence Police Constable John Burdsall was grazed by a bullet that severed his police radio cord.  (Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County District Attorney).
Upper Providence Police Constable John Burdsall was grazed by a bullet that severed his police radio cord. (Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County District Attorney).

Patrolman Michael Sheehan, the second officer to arrive at the scene in the 1400 block of Meadowview Lane in the Mount Clare section of the township, came under fire as the suspect attempted to flee the area in his van.

“As I pulled up, a vehicle came around the corner and I immediately took gunfire,” Sheehan recalled. “I was shot at. I jumped out of my car and fell to the ground.

Sheehan was not hit by gunfire but injured his shoulder while diving for cover.

“When I was shot I jumped out of the car and was on the ground. And for a split second I 100% believed this guy was going to run over me and kill me. I thought that it was safe,” Sheehan described the wild scene and tense seconds.

Backed by colleagues and District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, officers spoke at the county courthouse this week after the case closed against David John Naumenko, the 63-year-old man charged with two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. when Naumenko died of a terminal illness before he could stand trial.

While showing their resilience, neither Burdsall nor Sheehan wanted to discuss the emotional or physical effects of what they encountered that night as they fulfilled their oath to protect and serve.

But Burdsall shared that his wife was six months pregnant when he faced that danger.

“So he almost kidnapped my daughter’s father,” Burdsall said.

“I think it affected my wife more than me,” Sheehan added. “She struggled with that, but time heals all wounds, so I think we’ve moved away from that.”

OFFICIALS: OFFICERS RESPOND WITH BRAVERY

“Our department has never experienced anything of this magnitude. It was a very, very large crime scene,” said U. Mark Freeman, a 31-year veteran of the Upper Providence Police Force who was promoted to department chief in May 2021. “When you get a call on the morning of something so important, your heart sinks and your first concern is how the officers are doing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my two officers. They responded bravely. They responded professionally and frankly, they handled this with the utmost dignity,” Freeman added.

Upper Providence police officers John Burdsall (left) and Michael Sheehan (right) at the Montgomery County Courthouse.  (Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.)
Upper Providence police officers John Burdsall (left) and Michael Sheehan (right) at the Montgomery County Courthouse. (Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.)

The department, Freeman said, embraced both officers and supported them.

“I’ve never been in their situation where literally a few feet away a suspect is trying to kill you by literally shooting shot after shot after shot in the middle of the night,” Freeman said. “But I can only imagine there are ramifications when you’re involved in a critical incident that any of us would have challenges overcoming and returning to duty.”

Without providing specifics, Freeman explained that the department follows the same protocols as other departments — for anyone involved in a critical incident, there are certain steps officers must follow.

“Both officers have followed proper protocols and one has returned to duty and the other has a physical injury that will keep him out of business for another few months,” Freeman said.

Steele maintained that the officers responded to help someone who was apparently in crisis “and what they walked into was a gunman intent on killing them”.

“But for the grace of God, we would be in a very different situation,” Steele said.

During his tenure as district attorney, Steele said he saw a number of instances where officers were fired upon.

“It’s a situation where they come to work, they try to help people, and then someone tries to kill them. It’s a tough circumstance for an officer to go through and it’s a tough circumstance for their families to go through,” Steele said. “It’s not something that people go through quickly. I can tell you about some of the cases that I have handled, the officers have struggled because of those circumstances.

“I hope the public understands what they are going through and what the ramifications are for officers who get shot in the course of their work and service to our communities,” Steele added.

‘ROUND AFTER ROUND’ OF GUNFIRE

Authorities alleged that Naumenko fired at least 17 shots at police at three different locations during the shooting which occurred between 2:59 a.m. and 5:09 a.m.

“This individual kept firing round after round after round,” Freeman said.

For days afterward, Freeman said, police received reports from owners who found bullet holes in their vehicles.

“We were taking reports probably up to a good two weeks after the incident. It was a condominium complex, so it was a miracle no one was hurt,” Freeman said.

The investigation determined that three officers fired a total of eight shots during the two-hour standoff.

Left to right: Upper Providence Police Chief U. Mark Freeman, Patrolman John Burdsall, Patrolman Michael Sheehan and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele.  (Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.)
Left to right: Upper Providence Police Chief U. Mark Freeman, Patrolman John Burdsall, Patrolman Michael Sheehan and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele. (Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.)

Upper Providence Police were dispatched to the Meadowview Lane residence after a family member called 911 to report a behavioral/psychiatric emergency. Naumenko’s wife reported that Naumenko had a nervous breakdown, “had guns” and left their residence but was “harmless,” according to a criminal complaint filed by County Detective Gregory Henry.

Naumenko’s attorney, James P. Lyons, said this week that Naumenko’s death after suffering from a terminal illness leaves many questions.

“We will never know why he had a psychotic breakdown that day. There are so many things in this case that are unknown that we will never know,” Lyons said.

Upon arriving at the scene, Burdsall observed a white Silverado pickup truck in front of the residence and Naumenko pushing his wife toward the open passenger door. As Burdsdall said, “What’s going on?” and “Are you okay?” Naumenko began shooting at the officer who had to take cover, detectives said.

Naumenko then got into his truck and, as he drove away, encountered Sheehan as he arrived at the scene, according to court documents.

Sheehan, detectives said, “heard bullets whizzing past him and he could see muzzle flashes from the driver’s side of the truck.” Naumenko crashed his truck into several parked vehicles, then drove past the officer and stopped at the end of the block, detectives said.

Police saw Naumenko’s wife get out of the passenger side of the truck and officers called her to come to their location and ensure her safety. Naumenko got out of his truck and ran into a nearby treeline, detectives said.

A Limerick Township police officer arrived to help as shots continued to be fired by Naumenko, court documents show. The Limerick officer was able to gain access to a second floor flat in the area to attempt to observe the suspect from a window.

As Naumenko reportedly reloaded his weapon, the Limerick officer discharged his patrol rifle once, striking Naumenko once in the upper right arm and knocking him to the ground.

Montgomery County SWAT West Region members responded to the area and observed Naumenko lying in a grassy area, moved in, and took Naumenko into custody, where he was treated by emergency medical responders and transported to a local hospital for treatment of his injury.

Steele and Freeman thanked officers from other departments in the area who descended on the area to assist during the active shooter situation.

In addition to Upper Providence, officers from Limerick and Collegeville and the western Montgomery County SWAT region responded.

“When something like this happens, the cavalry arrives. This is exactly what happened. It was an active incident. We had so much help and it was heartwarming for me as Chief of Police to see all the help offered that night. They were true professionals,” Freeman said.

Steele added, “One of the blessings we have here in our law enforcement community is how well everyone works together and how well everyone supports each other in these circumstances.”

An investigation by county detectives into the shooting involving an officer determined that officers used lawful use of force during the incident.