GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Gwinnett County Police released the timeline of events that span the 19 hours a father held his 2-year-old son hostage in their home. The standoff ultimately ended in the shooting deaths of both the suspect and the young boy.
A day after the tragic events, the Beyers Landing subdivision is quiet. No signs remain of the horrific events that unfolded that started Tuesday around 9:48 p.m. with a frantic 911 call. Police said a 20-year-old woman reported that Thy Anh Ho, 43, was holding her 15-year-old brother and Ho’s young toddler, named Phillip, at gunpoint.
Gwinnett County Cpl. Deon Washington said within an hour, SWAT negotiators were in phone contact with Ho trying to calm him down.
Phillip's mother, who was Ho's estranged girlfriend, was allowed to leave with her 15-year-old son, but Ho held on to his toddler, setting off negotiations that lasted for hours by phone calls and through text messages.
"The suspect's mood changed through the night. At times he was angry, at times he was calm and he was very anxious about getting to talk to his girlfriend (Phillip's mother). But it's not prudent to let hostage takers talk to people in situations like this because they might try to make a last statement before doing something threatening," said Cpl. Washington.
Gwinnett Police said DeKalb County Police Officers tactfully relieved Gwinnett County's SWAT team 12 hours into the ordeal. Cpl. Washington said officers were able to see Ho walking around his home with his son, who was uninjured at the time, in his arms and a gun in his hand.
By mid-afternoon, Ho became agitated again, and then apologized to the officers who had made it inside the home by this time. He asked for food and cigarettes at 3:45 p.m. At 3:48 negotiators lost contact with Ho, who refused to take any more of their phone calls.
At 4:34 p.m., one shot was fired through the master bedroom door where Ho had kept his son for hours. None of DeKalb County's tactical officers were struck by the shot, but seconds later, the two deadly shots were fired as the officers swiftly moved into the bedroom.
“I don't think we will ever be able to have a reasonable explanation as to why a man would kill his own 2-year-old son and then commit suicide. DeKalb Police did everything they could do; everyone did what they could do. This just isn't how we wanted this to end," said Cpl. Washington.
Police said they rushed Phillip from the Gwinnett County home to a medical helicopter waiting nearby, and then flew him to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston in critical condition just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. He later died at the hospital.
Police said Ho was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center also in critical condition. He later died.
Piecing Together the Tragic Timeline
Gwinnett County Police released the following timeline of events during the 19-hour hostage standoff:
- Jan 5th 9:48 PM GCPD called to 1870 Beyers Landing Drive in Buford in reference to domestic dispute between a male and female
- The caller was not at the scene and was the 20yo daughter of the female involved in the dispute
- The daughter said that her mother’s boyfriend was holding her and her 15yo brother inside the home at gunpoint and threatening to shoot everyone and commit suicide
- The daughter was receiving information from her brother who was inside the house
- 10:03 PM the first two officers arrived at the location and began gathering information from the daughter who was outside with several friends
- 10:06 PM officer’s learned firsthand from the daughter that a male was holding a handgun to a child’s head inside the house and refusing to put the child and gun down
- The male was also stating that he was ready to die tonight
- Numerous officers began arriving at the location and surrounding the house
- 10:17 PM the shift commander activated the Swat team
- 10:27 PM officer at the scene spoke to mom who did not want to leave the house
- 10:30 PM officer at the scene spoke to the suspect on the phone and learned his name was Thy Ho
- Suspect claimed that he and his wife were about to come outside and he will have his hands up
- 10:32 PM officer lost contact with the suspect and attempted calling him back but received continuous voicemail
- 10:34 PM the first negotiator arrived at the scene and assumed control over negotiations
- 10:36 PM the first Swat officer arrived at the scene and began tactical assessment
- 10:38 PM officers learned that there were multiple cameras on the house that covered various angles and could be monitored from any mobile device
- 10:47 PM brother, sister, and her friends were secured at the command post
- 10:48 PM mother came out of the house and was secured by Swat
- At that point only the suspect, Thy Ho and his son, Phillip Nguyen were inside house
- Throughout the standoff negotiators spoke to the suspect numerous times over the phone and via text, the calls were very short with limited dialogue
- During those brief dialogues he requested to speak to his girlfriend
- Those requests were not granted due to the training and experience of negotiators
- Generally direct third party negotiations are avoided especially in hostage situations for fear of the suspect making a last statements to a loved one
- At 3AM the suspects parents were called to the scene
- Negotiators told the suspect when the parents arrived in hopes that he would surrender
- At 4:06AM the suspect’s parents received a text picture of the suspect and child lying in the bed. In the photo the child was asleep
- The suspect text his parents multiple times and attempted to call his girlfriend throughout the night
- Overnight Gwinnett Police Swat had a window of opportunity and entered the interior of the house from the garage
- 6:00 AM due to the frigid temperatures and duration of the standoff, the decision was made to employ mutual aid and request the DeKalb Police Swat team
- 10:42 AM DeKalb Police Swat began slowly relieving Gwinnett Swat and assuming tactical control and negotiations
- 11:16 AM the suspect is observed with a handgun and holding the child
- 11:17 AM the suspect is heard moving a dresser behind the master bedroom door to fortify his position
- 3:13 PM negotiators established verbal contact with the suspect from inside the house
- 3:15 PM suspect appeared agitated and began speaking in his native language
- 3:39 PM the suspect apologized to the officers as they are requesting that he come to the door
- 3:44 PM negotiators hear the child making noise and the suspect asks for food
- 3:45 PM negotiators establish contact with the suspect over the phone and he asked for cigarettes
- 3:48 PM negotiators lose contact with the suspect over the phone
- 4:34 PM one shot is fired through the master bedroom door towards tactical officers.
- Seconds later, two additional shots are fired by the suspect that is when he and the child are shot
- Tactical officers immediately enter the master bedroom where they find the suspect and child suffering from gunshot wounds
- Both were immediately evacuated from the scene.
- The child was flown by helicopter to Egleston hospital and the suspect was transported by ambulance to Gwinnett Medical Center
A Neighborhood under Siege
It was by 11 p.m. Tuesday that the entire neighborhood was on lockdown. SWAT team had moved into try to talk down Ho.
The incident blocked residents in their homes for the duration of the standoff. Some hunkered down in their own homes, played an unwilling first-hand witness to the tragedy about to unfold.
Neighbors who were trapped in their homes are still struggling to understand why Ho fatally shot his two year old son Phillip after a 20-hour police standoff.
"This is just heartbreaking. The police did so much and worked so hard for so long to protect that little boy. I hate that it ended like this," said neighbor Kara Dowling.
Some residents were allowed to leave during the standoff, but were told they would not be allowed to return once they were clear of the scene.
The neighborhood, by all outward appearances, has returned to the way it was before, but some residents said it weighs heavy on their hearts.