Homeless veteran with ax fatally attacks Ohio shelter director, is shot to death by police

By Meghan Barr, AP
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Veteran attacks Ohio shelter director; both killed

CLEVELAND — An Air Force veteran who was told to move out of a homeless shelter because he had been uncooperative about attending counseling fatally attacked the center’s director Wednesday and then was shot to death by police when he charged at them with a knife and an ax, authorities said.

Officers said that when they arrived at the homeless shelter, Raymond Ice was holding the weapons and was standing over the body of shelter director Rita Ciofani, 59. He ignored orders to drop the weapons, charged at officers and was Tasered and shot, police spokesman Sgt. Sammy Morris said.

“This is very unprecedented and surprising — that this person would take his anger out on a person that’s been, you know, very good and kind and helpful to him,” said Dennis Kresak, president of the Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio, which runs the center.

The shelter, which houses about 50 male veterans, provides temporary food and housing until veterans can find permanent places to live and stable employment. Most veterans only stay about a year, Kresak said.

Ice, 48, was being transferred to a similar residential program at a nearby veterans’ hospital, Kresak said.

Ice gave no indication that he was angry about being asked to leave, Kresak said, though he added that the stress of living in a homeless program can exacerbate residents’ anxiety.

“But certainly not to the extent where you would, you know, take that kind of action,” he said.

Ice had signed out of the center at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and returned about half an hour later, Kresak said. He wasn’t sure whether Ice was carrying the weapons when he came in.

Ciofani was sitting at her desk when Ice came into her office, said Kresak.

That’s “not uncommon — residents coming down, talking to the director,” he said.

A staff member saw the attack from the office doorway and called 911 about 9:30 a.m, Kresak said.

Wanda McDearman, a part-time cook at the shelter, said another cook, whom she did not identify, walked in on the grisly scene.

“He walked around the desk because he heard Miss Rita moaning,” said McDearman, who was not working at the time of the attack. “And there she was laid out.”

In Ciofani’s office, the desk was situated so that her back faced the door, McDearman said.

“I was told, ‘Never sit with your back to the door,’” she said. “He walked in on her, unbeknownst to her. He caught her off guard. Because I’m sure if she could’ve seen him coming, she could’ve screamed or fought.”

Court records show Ice pleaded guilty in 2008 to vandalism and attempting to assault a peace officer in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. He was sentenced to one year of probation, and the court waived a $750 restitution fee paid to the VA.

The Plain-Dealer reported Wednesday that the officer worked at the VA.

Records show Ice violated his probation and was sentenced to six months in prison, though he only served 41 days.

Kresak did not know whether Ice had behaved aggressively before the shelter attack but said there had never been a violent incident there.

McDearman said Ice was disagreeable.

“He was always complaining, no matter what it was, no matter who it was,” she said. “He was never happy.”

Kresak said he did not know when Ice was in the Air Force but believed he had not served in the Iraq war that began in 2003 or in Afghanistan.

Kresak did not know how long Ice had been living at the shelter, which works closely with the VA.

Ice had outstayed his welcome at the shelter, and it was time for him to move on, McDearman said.

In an e-mailed statement late Wednesday, Volunteers of America spokeswoman Megan Ericson said the agency is reviewing its security measures in light of the attack.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that this will never happen again,” Ericson said. “Our hearts are broken.”

Ciofani spent her career as a champion for the homeless, serving as executive director of a battered women’s shelter for nearly 20 years before joining the veterans’ shelter in January 2009.

Volunteers of America is a national, faith-based non-profit organization that runs thousands of programs, serving nearly 2 million people across the U.S.

The 24-hour shelter provides employment counseling, substance abuse treatment referrals and other services for veterans.

“That’s part of them coming here, so they can get back into society and get themselves together,” she said. “But I guess some of them never recover.”

(This version CORRECTS center president did not know when Ice was in Air Force instead of did know.)

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