NEW YORK (AP) — The college student was being held in a headlock by a masked intruder with a loaded gun to her head, police said. Then the gunman took aim at an officer.
A moment later both Hofstra University junior Andrea Rebello and the intruder were dead — killed after a split-second decision that is perhaps the most harrowing in law enforcement: when to pull the trigger.
“The big question is, how do you know, when someone’s pointing a gun at you, whether you should keep talking to them, or shoot?” said Michele Galietta, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who helps train police officers. “That’s what makes the job of an officer amazingly difficult.”
She spoke Sunday as Hofstra University students honored Rebello, a popular 21-year-old public relations major, by wearing white ribbons at their graduation ceremony.
Rebello’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow, north of New York City.
The news that she died from a police bullet came as “a second shock” for the already devastated family, said Henry Santos, Rebello’s godfather.
Her life ended in the seconds that forced the veteran police officer to make a fatal decision, but the questions surrounding the student’s death are just beginning, along with an internal investigation by the Nassau County Police Department.
Rebello and the intruder, Dalton Smith, died early Friday when the officer fired eight shots, hitting him seven times and her once in the head, according to county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata.
With a gun pointed at her, Smith “kept saying, ‘I’m going to kill her,’ and then he pointed the gun at the police officer,” according to Azzata.
The officer acted quickly, saying later that he believed his and Rebello’s lives were in danger, according to authorities.
No doubt, he was acting to try to save lives — his own and that of the young woman, Galietta said.
“What we’re asking the cop to anticipate is, ‘What is going on in the suspect’s mind at the moment?’” she said. “We’re always trying to de-escalate, to contain a situation, but the issue of safety comes in first, and that’s the evaluation the officer has to make.”