Andrea Rebello Update: Family of accidentally slain Hofstra Univ. student criticizes police

Hofstra student Andrea Rebello, 21, was shot and killed by a police officer's bullet in an attempt to rescue her from an armed intruder.
CBS News
Hofstra student Andrea Rebello, 21, was shot and killed by a police officer's bullet in an attempt to rescue her from an armed intruder.
Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello, 21, was shot and killed by a police officer's bullet in an attempt to rescue her from an armed intruder
CBS News

(CBS/AP) The godfather of a Hofstra University student accidentally killed by police during a standoff with a masked intruder in a Long Island home says the officer should have negotiated with her hostage taker instead of shooting.

PICTURES: Slain Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello

Andrea Rebello, 21, was killed by a police officer's bullet during a Friday standoff at her shared house near the school's Uniondale, N.Y. campus. Police responding to the report of a home invasion robbery found Rebello held in a headlock by the intruder, who had a gun pointed at her head, authorities have said.

Police say when the intruder pointed his gun at an officer, the officer shot eight times - with seven rounds hitting the suspect, Dalton Smith, who died, and one hitting Rebello, killing her.

Henrique Santos, Rebello's godfather, issued a statement Monday outside the family's home in Westchester County, N.Y. 

"I think the police is[sic] not very professional," Santos said of the accidental shooting. "If he's professional, he should have tried negotiation."

Santos also said, "He should have hit the guy with the first shot, not eight."

When it comes to hostage situations, experts say that police officers often have "bare bones" training and are faced with life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds.

"Once he grabs the girl, literally the whole situation is condensed to nano seconds and the officer and his partner have to make decisions nobody's really equipped to make under those circumstances," said Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor of law and police studies at John Jay College.

A key question is whether the officers responding to the house near the Hofstra campus at 2:30 a.m. Friday were aware the intruder was holding hostages. However, it wasn't immediately clear what the officers knew when they entered the home. Police officials described the initial report as simply a robbery in progress.

In hostage situations, police are trained to call for backup - like SWAT teams or a hostage negotiator -- isolate the scene and buy time until more resources arrive, experts say.

Edward Mamet, who spent 40 years as a New York City police officer and appears as an expert witness on police procedure, said if the responding officers knew hostages were inside the house, they should have taken a cautious approach and waited for back-up.

"Unless it's clearly indicated that the lives of hostages and any bystanders are in jeopardy," Mamet said. "If that's the case, then everything goes out the window."

Because no two hostage scenarios are alike, O'Donnell said, training officers for them can prove difficult. And without solid details from the scene, police can sometimes be "flying blind," he said.

"The police really have the very bare bones protocol and guidance on these things," O'Donnell said. "So you're talking about a bad situation in which the police are going to an emergency and at best they have heresay on the radio call."

One of the two officers who entered the home found the intruder holding the 21-year-old Rebello in a headlock and he "kept saying `I'm going to kill her,' and then he pointed the gun at the police officer," said Nassau county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata. That's when the officer, who has not been identified, fired eight times, fatally striking the 30-year-old Smith with seven shots and Rebello with one shot to the head.

Smith, who had a 9 mm pistol, never fired a shot, police said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale said the criminal investigation is ongoing and an internal police department investigation will follow. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said Monday it also was monitoring the police investigation.

Making a judgment call on whether the officer acted appropriately will require more investigation and more details regarding exactly what happened on the scene, said David Klinger, a former patrol officer at the Los Angeles and Redmond, Wash. Police departments and an associate professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"You have to have fine grain information about what was going on on the ground before you can analyze it and say, this was correct, this was incorrect," Klinger said.

When it comes to the number of shots fired, there's no "magic number" when a police officer is confronted with a dangerous assailant, O'Donnell said.

"No matter how well you fire in a range, this is a different kind of shooting...this is your worst kind of police situation where a civilian is directly in a life and death situation."

Andrea Rebello's funeral is Wednesday.

Complete coverage of the Andrea Rebello shooting on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.