With the front door barricaded, Joe Hollywood’s girlfriend pleaded with a police dispatcher to send help to her Fries Road home. Then she noticed the fire.
“Oh my God, he’s got the house on fire,” the woman screamed in a 911 call recording.
“Where, ma’am?” asked the dispatcher.
“He’s burning the house up,” she yelled. “I don’t know. He’s burning the house up.”
Town of Tonawanda police released the recording Friday in response to a Freedom of Information request by The Buffalo News. It recounts the frightening and chaotic moments Monday morning leading up to the fire, which destroyed the home and killed Hollywood in his basement as he hid with a long gun and oxygen supply ready to engage anyone who entered.
The woman – who was apparently involved in a domestic altercation with Hollywood – was able to flee.
Hollywood, 60, was known to police and neighbors as an eccentric who loved public attention, had an arsenal of firearms in his basement and dressed up as Santa Claus for public events. He was said to be proud of his reputation as “Drunken Santa.”
But the 911 call – and Hollywood’s fatal actions Monday – showed another, more terrifying side.
The call begins with the sound of a man shouting in the background as the dispatcher asks, “Are there any weapons?” and “Hello?”
She got no response except for more unintelligible shouting. Then, “Yes, hurry, please,” the woman pleaded.
“What’s the address?” asked the dispatcher.
“163 Fries Road, hurry,” the woman screamed.
“160 Fries?” the dispatcher misunderstands. “What’s going on, ma’am?”
The woman corrected her. Then more shouting and the call abruptly ended with the sound of mashed phone button tones.
“Oh, my God,” said the dispatcher.
The woman called back. Now she’s speaking in a softer, fearful tone.
“Hurry,” she whispered.
“Ma’am we’re on our way,” the dispatcher said. “What’s going on?”
“He’s got a gun and he’s going to kill me,” she said.
“Who is he?”
The dispatcher asked if she has seen the gun and where Hollywood is in the house.
“He’s down in the basement, I think.”
The woman’s voice becomes so soft, the dispatcher can’t hear her.
“Calm down, ma’am. I can’t understand you. Why don’t you leave the residence? Are you able to go outside?”
“The front door is barricaded. I can’t get out.”
“Barricaded by what?”
“It’s broken and he’s got locks on it”
The dispatcher asked about her relationship with Hollywood, whether he is on any drugs or alcohol and if the gun is loaded. Then Hollywood’s girlfriend notices smoke.
“She said he just set the house on fire,” the dispatcher said to someone with her. “And she hung up again.”
Police Chief Anthony J. Palombo told the Town Board at Thursday’s budget work session that he was monitoring the situation from the town’s dispatch center as the SWAT team moved in and police set up a perimeter.
He also noted it was the first time the town used its Twitter account – @TTPD – to keep the public updated as a crisis unfolded.
Police sent out short messages advising neighbors to shelter in their basements, that utilities were to be cut in the area and that schools in the town were in lockdown.