The Neptune Murders
A City Waits
A search and rescue team of F.B.I. agents and New Rochelle police was hastily put together. Armed with automatic weapons and shotguns, they entered the Neptune building to clear the first floor of any trapped or hiding employees. Entering through a rear door that was out of the line of fire from Cowan's position, the cops went on a nerve-wracking search through a myriad of offices and closets on the first floor. Into each nook and cranny they searched, behind every door and desk they crawled, never knowing in the next moment if sudden death would appear from the muzzle of a high-powered assault rifle. For what seemed like an eternity, the officers continued on their mission. P.O. Juliano was one of the eight officers on the team. "We knew there were people still inside, we just didn't know how many" he said. "When I got inside the cafeteria, I saw a guy crouched under a desk, too terrified to move." When Juliano coaxed the man out, he began to back him out of the building. "As I moved with him down the hallway, I shouted 'Civilian! Civilian coming out!' so the other cops would know who he was. Tensions were very, very high," he remembered. The search party also found the bodies of Hicks and Holmes together in the first floor hallway, Cowan's first victims. James Green was found next. He suffered fatal wounds to the back and chest. Pariyarathu Varghese's body was found minutes later near the back stairwell. Joe Russo, badly wounded in the abdomen was in the cafeteria along with several others who had been shot and wounded. It was like a small war scene. And hidden under a desk in a first floor office was Norman Bing, terrified, trembling and glad to be alive. "If I hadn't walked out of my office, he would have gotten me. He kept asking people if they knew where I was-thank God nobody did!" he later told reporters from the N.Y. Times (Thomas, p. 28 2/25). In this first search mission, cops located 14 employees who were either hiding or wounded and brought them to safety outside the building.
The scene inside the radio room at the New Rochelle Police headquarters was turbulent. All off duty officers who could be contacted were ordered to active duty. The entire department was on full alert and every police officer was needed immediately. Every weapon, automatic rifle, handgun and shotgun was removed from the armory and brought to the Weyman Avenue battleground. The department was engulfed by hundreds of phone calls from reporters, citizens, relatives of Neptune employees, the families of the wounded and dead, other cops, anyone who had anything to do with Neptune or the police department called the switchboard that day. Volunteers, including some City Council members and local politicians, responded to the police station to offer their help.
At 12:13 P.M., the phone rang on an open line on the switchboard. The call was taken by Police Lieutenant Tom Perotti who was surprised to hear Fred Cowan's voice on the phone. He was calling from inside Neptune and wanted food.
"Hello?" said Perotti.
"Who the hell is this?" the voice demanded.
"Lt. Perotti." The caller identified himself as Fred Cowan, the shooter at Neptune.
Cowan said that he wanted some potato salad and hot chocolate.
"I get mean when I'm hungry!" he said which struck Perotti as a serious understatement. Perotti asked how he wanted the food delivered.
"Just drop it off at the door!" Cowan shouted into the phone. When Perotti expressed concern about the safety of his men and women, Cowan reassured him.
"All I want is the food and I'm not going to hurt anybody at this point." He went on to apologize for causing such an inconvenience. "Tell the mayor I'm sorry for causing all this trouble", he continued. But when Perotti tried to keep him on the phone, Cowan became abrupt.
"Just get the goddamn food!" he shouted and hung up.
In the command center next door to Neptune, officers worked relentlessly to establish communication with Cowan who was showing no signs of responding. A loudspeaker was mounted on the APC and continuously urged Cowan to call the command center. His parents were brought to the scene and also made several pleas for Cowan to surrender. He still would not reply. "Pray for Freddie, he's gone crazy!" his mother said (McFadden, p. 28). Det. Harris, who talked to Mrs. Cowan at the scene, said the mother was in fear of her son. "She told me that she was afraid of Freddie ever since he came back from the service," he said. The situation evolved into a sort of stalemate. At about 2:15 PM, a Neptune employee, Sal DeBello, who was trapped in a bathroom on the second floor, emerged from the building unharmed. He told police that he did not know exactly where the gunman was but knew that another employee, William Hill, was in another second floor bathroom too afraid to come out. While cops debriefed DeBello, another employee, Nicholas Siciliano, wandered into the rear parking lot. He said that he was hiding in the ladies' room on the second floor. Cops now had no doubts that there were other employees still unaccounted for and probably either hiding or taken hostage by Cowan.