WHEATFIELD - The Niagara County Sheriff Department immediately issued a "shelter in place" Monday afternoon when they learned a man armed with an AK-47 had fired shots inside his house and was threatening to shoot police.
But as police swarmed around the 2900 block of Niagara Falls Boulevard, nearby residents who rely on cell phones were mostly in the dark, unless they had arranged to be informed by the New York Alert system.
Christine Miller of 2934 Niagara Falls Boulevard home schools her 6-year-old son and said she was unaware anything was happening a few houses away from hers until she looked up from her computer and saw what looked like "Army guys" armed with assault rifles pass by her window.
"There was four guys. I wasn't sure if they were surrounding my house," said Miller. She said her sister called her and told her about the standoff. Miller said she never heard any gun fire.
In the meantime her husband of eight weeks, William Huff, had heard of the standoff and said he was racing to get home to his wife and stepson.
"They actually held me up at the end of the street. They had it blocked off and I said, 'My wife and stepson are down there,' but they wouldn't let me go," said Huff. "I wanted to swoop in and save her."
Miller said she didn't need someone to tell her to "shelter in place." She stayed inside peeking out the window.
"At first it was just one cop car that pulled up. One guy jumped out and I wondered what the heck was going on," said Miller. "He had a vest and a helmet and a gun and I knew something serious was going on."
She said the other four, who Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour later identified as members of the state and sheriff emergency response team, "snuck by" her window. She said they remained hidden behind a Custom Covers work van next door with their guns pointed at a house nearby.
"I guess they were spotters," said Miller.
Her husband told her to go down in the basement, but Miller said her curiosity won out and she even snapped a few photos from behind the glass.
Small businesses and house dot the landscape on Niagara Falls Boulevard near the scene in the 2900 block of Niagara Falls Boulevard between Ward Road. Those with landlines got the first alert from authorities at 12:40 p.m. The incident ended peacefully after about an hour when the suspect came out, unarmed, and was arrested. The 911 system sent out an all clear alert at 1:36 p.m.
Miller, formerly of Lockport, said she'd only lived there since January and didn't know her neighbors well. Huff agreed, but said those he did know seemed like "nice enough guys."
"I'm originally from San Diego. I'm used to gunshots there - not here," said Huff.
Voutour said law enforcement authorities can use New York Alert to contact landlines, using the reverse 9-1-1 system. He said the system can make 3,000 calls per minute.
"It's a free system," said Voutour of New York Alert. He said once they located the house they told the alert system what perimeter they wanted to set up, which in this case was about a half a mile in either direction, and then drew a "geo-fence" to alert everyone with a landline phone.
He said the calls do not automatically go out to cell phones, but anyone with a cell phone can sign up with New York Alert.
"It's very simple to do and that alert comes to your cell phone," said Voutour. The system will also alert people to weather and road closures, he added. He said their department uses it frequently to keep people informed.
Those who do not have their cell phone enabled with New York Alert can go to https://www.nyalert.gov/.