MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — The president of a New York police union defended an officer who accidentally killed a Hofstra University student during a standoff with an armed intruder, saying Tuesday the only person responsible for the woman's death was the gunman who held her hostage.
"There is some second guessing by people who think we should have stayed outside the house, but our job is to get inside and make sure we can protect as many people as we can," said James Carver, president of the Nassau County Patrolman's Benevolent Association.
Investigators say Andrea Rebello was being held in a headlock by Dalton Smith last week when he pointed his weapon at the officer, prompting the officer to open fire.
Rebello was killed by one of eight shots fired by the officer. Smith also was killed.
The officer, who has not been named, is on sick leave while authorities investigate.
"The officer sends his thoughts and prayers to the victim," Carver said. "He is a religious man and has a strong family background, and he has a lot of support from his family and friends. And that is what he needs right now."
In Tarrytown, friends gathered at a wake for Rebello on Tuesday night. The funeral is Wednesday.
Patty Neuwirth of Briarcliff Manor, who knows Rebello's father, said she sympathized with everyone involved, including the police officer.
"None of us can put ourselves in the position of any of them," Neuwirth said.
Another family friend, Maria Sousa of Millbrook, described the family as "beyond devastated."
"I think this was unnecessary," Sousa said, adding that the officer should have waited for backup.
A high school friend of Andrea Rebello said he believed her death could have been prevented.
"It's a tragedy," Anthony Martinato of Tarrytown said outside Coffey Funeral Home. "The only time I see her is in an open coffin."
Others have echoed their sentiments, asking whether officers should have waited for help from a hostage negotiating team, and the dead woman's godfather has criticized the police as unprofessional.
A key question is whether the officers responding to the house near the Hofstra campus early Friday were aware the intruder was holding hostages. Police officials described the initial report as simply a robbery in progress.
"He went into the house, he deemed it was not appropriate to wait at that time," Carver said. "If he would have waited, we don't know what could have happened."
Smith had a warrant out for his arrest for violating his parole.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said he served nine years of a 10-year sentence for attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon and was released in May 2012.
He was arrested for a parole violation in July and was told he wouldn't have to go back to prison if he successfully completed a 90-day drug treatment program. He finished the program in February and was released. A warrant was issued in April after he didn't make contact with his parole officer and left his approved residence.