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Turning a film cliche into a tactical save
A hokey gimmick from an old cowboy movie saved an officer held hostage at rifle point
The diverting glance — it seems like a hokey gimmick from an old cowboy movie, but ILEETA instructor Guy Rossi believes it might save your life in a desperate situation. He’s confident it saved him one snowy night when he was held hostage at rifle point inside a police station.
Rossi was eight months into his first patrol job with a small department in upstate New York when the incident unfolded on an otherwise quiet night during a blizzard.
In uniform, he was locked inside the village’s deserted police station, working alone at a conference room table on an evaluation of security holsters when he heard pounding on the building’s front door.
“I thought maybe the other officer on patrol that night had an armload of stuff and couldn’t work the lock or some citizen needed help after hours,” he recalls.
As he walked across a vestibule to respond, all he could make out through the front door’s frosted glass was “just a shadowy figure” standing on the step outside.
“I opened the door about six inches and suddenly felt pressure on my gut,” he says. “I looked down and saw a Winchester .30-30 lever-action rifle pressed into my stomach — hammer cocked.”
Reasoning with the Local Mental Case
The door flew open, Rossi was punched backward with a shove of the gun, and a 6’ 6”, 280-pound, “goofy-looking” guy marched him at gunpoint back into the conference room.
The gunman checked a couple of closed doors leading off the room to ensure they were locked, then stood facing Rossi with the rifle pointed directly at him at a distance of about 15 feet.
“He kept ranting about problems in Iran,” Rossi says. “He was a local mental case — and real agitated. There was no telling what he would do.”
And no immediately-clear option for what the young officer should do.
“I was too far away to attempt a disarming. To try to draw and fire against a more powerful gun that was already pointed and cocked seemed like suicide.
"Even if I hit him with my .38, he was so big he probably wouldn’t go down before he could shoot back. I felt my only choice was to try to reason with him — and good luck with that!”
Maybe it Was from the Movies
Then at about the same time the offender ordered him to drop his gunbelt, Rossi realized that the gunman’s back was toward an open doorway that led into a darkened locker room.
It was an area the hostage-taker hadn’t checked in his cursory effort to clear the room.
Rossi isn’t sure where he got the idea — maybe it was from the Westerns he saw as a kid — but the tactic he hit on is etched in his mind, frame-by-frame, as clear as it was that night his life was on the line more than 30 years ago.
“When he was looking right into my eyes, I quickly shifted my gaze and looked over his left shoulder into the locker room — an intense, directed stare like I was surprised to see someone standing there behind him,” Rossi explains.
“It startled him. He turned his head and rotated his shoulder to see what I was looking at, and as he did he lowered his gun.”
Rossi’s grandmother had died not long before the incident, and in an eerie visitation he now heard her voice yelling in his head: “Run, Guy, run!”
“I would have blasted through a wall if I’d had do,” he says. “I don’t think my feet even touched the floor” as he bolted across the vestibule and through front door to outside.
There he took a barricade position at a corner of the building, his gun up and ready for action when the suspect started to emerge from the front door seconds later. A command from Rossi — “Don’t move!” — sent him ducking back inside, where he holed up until a sheriff’s SWAT team removed him later that night.
A single unspent rifle round was later found on the floor of the conference room.
“Surprised by my action, the suspect under stress apparently had unintentionally ejected a round instead of pulling the trigger, as hunters will sometimes do when they’re startled,” Rossi explains.
The young rookie, meantime, was uninjured.
Before long, he joined Rochester (N.Y.) PD, where he spent the rest of his career before retiring as sergeant. Through ILEETA and other outlets, he remains a prominent trainer in survival strategies today. And in his curriculum, he always includes the potentially life-saving tactic of the diverting glance.
For training information, Guy Rossi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.