Update: Ellsworth standoff ends; suspect surrenders

February 14, 2014
White and Oak streets in Ellsworth, the scene of a standoff with police, were blocked off Friday night and Saturday. The suspect surrendered and was taken into custody without incident. - Francesca Sacco / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

ELLSWORTH – A standoff in Ellsworth with state police ended peacefully Saturday morning after the suspect surrendered.

The suspect, identified as Joe Carl Cunningham, 28, of Ellsworth, was taken into custody about 11:30 a.m. after holding police at bay for more than 18 hours, according to Trooper Stefani Plume.

Cunningham went to the 36 Oak St. home he once shared with the unidentified woman who currently lives there about 4 p.m. yesterday. He ordered the woman, who was with her boyfriend and 15-year-old daughter, to open the door or he would harm them, Plume said. Plume said Cunningham displayed a weapon or weapons.

Although Plume said the woman was Cunningham’s former girlfriend, their relationship remains unclear.

The property owners, David and Lillian Ross, said Cunningham and the woman were husband and wife, and were possibly separated or divorced.

Plume said Cunningham was allowed to enter the home and an argument ensued. Cunningham then left the house to retrieve additional weapons, the trooper said. At that point, the boyfriend also retrieved a weapon.

Plume said Cunningham returned and the two men exchanged gunfire.

Cunningham suffered a nonlife-threatening gunshot wound to his upper body, while the woman and boyfriend managed to escape the house and call 911. The teenager remained in the house with Cunningham. Plume said he held the girl hostage for a period of time. At some point, the teen managed to get control of the weapons and flee.

Cunningham remained inside the house overnight, keeping police at bay until about 11:30 a.m., when he surrendered.

He was taken to a local hospital and faces charges of burglary, aggravated assault, simple assault, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. He will be arraigned after his release from the hospital, Plume said.

Plume said she was unaware of any prior domestic violence incidents between Cunningham and the woman, although she confirmed Cunningham was not supposed to be at the home.

White and Oak streets remain closed as police continued their investigation, but the lockdown issued Friday was lifted.

The Rosses said Cunningham and the woman leased the home about four years ago and Cunningham requested his name be removed from the lease. They said they were unaware of prior domestic problems. Lillian Ross said two other children lived at the home. They were not there at the time of the incident.

As of late Saturday, Cunningham remained in the hospital.

Additional details were not released by state police.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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