SMITHSBURG, Md. (AP) — Four people found fatally shot after a police chase near the Maryland-Pennsylvania line have been identified as a fired police officer who had been on the run with his two daughters and a police officer who was suspended after joining them, Maryland State Police said.
Robert Vicosa, 41, a former Baltimore County police officer and fugitive wanted for felonies in both states, was found Thursday with his two daughters, ages 6 and 7, in the back seat of a Ford Edge, police said in a news release.
A woman found dead in the driver’s seat was identified as Tia Bynum, 35, a suspended county police officer. One girl was flown to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead; the other three were dead at the scene, police said.
Authorities had been looking for Vicosa and the girls for days after his estranged wife reported that he had held and assaulted her at his home outside York, Pennsylvania, according to court documents.
Vicosa had invited her to celebrate her birthday with their daughters at his home Friday, and she prepared to leave when the girls went to bed, she told authorities.
But Vicosa said, “I got you a bracelet,” emphasizing the word bracelet, and suddenly Bynum came out of hiding and helped Vicosa grab her, taking her to the basement with a gun to her head. They bound her with zip ties and rope, she told authorities.
By Sunday, she convinced him to let her leave to get clothes and a computer, but he threatened to kill himself and their daughters if she tried to report what he was doing, she told police. She went to her mother’s home and told her to leave, and then to a Target store, where she asked an employee to call 911, she said.
A search warrant for Vicosa’s home was obtained Sunday and a protection from abuse order was obtained Monday for the wife and the two girls, but police said no one was there and a glass door had been smashed when they went there Monday afternoon.
Police then went to Bynum’s home in nearby Windsor. She shared a surveillance video that showed a group of men with flashlights and guns breaking in the door Sunday night and searching Vicosa’s home, documents state.
She told police that Vicosa had already come to her house with his daughters, and then left again. Officers searched her home, but didn’t find them.
On Tuesday, a woman in another nearby town discovered a car registered to Bynum’s sister wrecked in a stream on her property, and said a man later identified as Vicosa came out of her camper. The man pointed a gun at her and made her give him her car keys and cell phone, which he used to contact Bynum, police said.
The next day, Vicosa carjacked and kidnapped a driver in Cockeysville, Maryland, with the girls and Bynum in tow, and forced the driver to take them to various locations in the Baltimore area before releasing her unharmed, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said.
They were spotted next on Thursday afternoon. Pennsylvania State Police alerted Maryland State Police that a Ford Edge matching the description of an SUV linked to felonies including child abduction and carjacking was heading toward the Maryland line. Troopers tried to stop the SUV and a short time later, it went off the road, struck a culvert and stopped in a grassy area.
“Our crisis negotiation team made several attempts to contact the occupants of the vehicle,” Maryland State Police spokeswoman Elena Russo said. “After receiving no response and low visibility inside the vehicle because of a thick layer of smoke that was contained in the interior of the vehicle, police made entry into the passenger side.”
All four had gunshot wounds and investigators believe Vicosa was the shooter, Russo said Friday. They believe the shooting happened less than 30 seconds after police activated their lights and sirens to pull over the SUV, since it careered off the road without braking, she said.
Police said they know of no motive at this time for the shooting, which they described as a murder-suicide. Four guns, including an assault rifle, were found in the vehicle, Russo said.
Bynum, who was suspended Wednesday, joined the force in 2007, police said. In 2019, then-Sgt. Vicosa was accused of improper conduct with three female subordinates, according to a document summarizing his internal affairs cases.
He was demoted two ranks to officer and lost 45 days of leave after being found guilty of five of six allegations by a police trial board. Vicosa was ultimately fired in August after he was found guilty of sleeping on duty, being insubordinate and conduct unbecoming an officer.
A candlelight vigil in memory of the girls was planned Friday night in front of the home, neighbor Nicole Fitchett said.
The girls’ parents were very quiet and didn’t share much, but their daughters played with children in the neighborhood, including Fitchett’s children and were “very sweet little girls,” she said. One time, Fitchett’s cat ran out of the house and the girls brought their two big pit bulls in, then helped her children search for her cat, which they found, she said.
Hyatt offered condolences in a statement Friday as people, including the law enforcement community struggle to understand the deaths.
“The tragedy that occurred yesterday was beyond horrific,” Hyatt said. “This was a selfish and senseless act of violence that has shaken us to our very core.”