Forsyth County deputies in full-body tactical gear ran down the usually quiet south Forsyth street, yelling, “Northside Forsyth!” to an ambulance navigating between the patrol cars and SWAT trucks that lined the road.
As Central EMS pulled into the driveway of 6290 Carleen Court, SWAT officers rushed out of the residence with 11-month-old Ava Ashraf, on whom they had been performing medical treatment due to a gunshot wound she suffered at the hands of her 34-year-old father during a domestic dispute with his wife and subsequent three-hour standoff with law enforcement.
From several houses away, neighbors watched.
“All of a sudden, you see a bunch of people rush over to the side of the house with something that looked like a book bag,” said Brendan Hill, a resident in the Vistas at Castleberry subdivision. “They put it on the ground, and everybody was on top of it so we didn’t know what it was, but the next thing you know they picked up the baby, and once they got the ambulance up here they put the baby into the ambulance."
Hill’s, the Ashraf family’s and other neighbors’ manicured lawns and cookie-cutter houses reflected blue lights, blocked from traffic with yellow crime tape on Monday, Aug. 7 as deputies and SWAT negotiators attempted to make contact with the father, who was refusing to come out with his daughter.
Playing it back over and over and over again, the last thing we wanted to see was a baby being brought out.Sgt. Mike Garrison, investigator and negotiator, Forsyth County Sheriff's Office
Deputies who initially responded had limited information – the man’s wife had called 911 shortly after 3:30 p.m. after running across the street to a neighbor’s home, where she told the dispatcher her husband took her cell phone and threatened her and their child with a gun, according to Deputy Doug Rainwater, a spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
“Once we got here, we initially made contact with the husband inside and he talked to a deputy,” Rainwater said. “We thought at that time he was coming out, but he didn’t. So, other deputies came to try to talk him out through PA systems and other [methods] – the whole nine yards.”
Hill’s roommate, Alex Lee, said he saw law enforcement “lining the streets” and calling toward the house with a microphone to “come out with your hands up.”
“That [went] on probably for about two hours or so, and eventually they brought the SWAT team,” he said. “We heard a loud bang maybe 20 minutes after [SWAT arrived], and the garage door opened up. I heard one of the cops who was walking by say [that] this [was] probably going to be a more difficult [situation] – it’s definitely not how I expected my Monday to be.”
“We’ve tried everything”
Action was not constant throughout the three-hour standoff.
“It’s not unusual to get on scene and the subject doesn’t initially want to talk to you,” said Sgt. Mike Garrison, an investigator and negotiator for the sheriff’s office. “The biggest challenge we have is to establish communication with the subject.
“In this particular case, what we tried to do was contact him over and over and over. There were two cellphones in the house. One was his and one was the wife’s, and we tried on both leaving messages, we tried to Facetime him, we contacted his parents – both the mom and the dad. The dad responded.”
Ashraf’s father worked with negotiators, but his son didn’t respond to his texts or calls. Investigators would soon find that was because he had already taken his own life with a gun.
“The next step is to do door-to-door contact,” Garrison said. “We have a throw phone – a line of communication straight from the [command] truck to the [home] – and we came to the conclusion that we’ve tried everything. We’ve tried. [The] family’s tried. He’s not responding to any of the methods, so we came to the conclusion of, ‘Listen, we’re going to have to make entry.’
“From a negotiation standpoint, we’re at an impasse.”
“The last thing we wanted to see”
Soon after the ambulance left the scene, deputies began to disperse from the home, their previous sense of urgency muted.
“She was taken by [ground] ambulance, so the baby’s going to be OK?” neighbors asked one another, willing rhetoric into reality.
Sheriff Ron Freeman walked away from the scene, a crumpled tissue in his hand.
“Playing it back over and over and over again, the last thing we wanted to see was a baby being brought out,” Garrison said. “We used the tactical option at the very end because we exhausted everything, and at that point in time we were [increasingly] concerned about the welfare of the child.
“I can only speculate, but [I don’t think] we ever had an opportunity for someone on the other end to pick up.”
On Wednesday morning with her mother and family by her side, the infant succumbed to her injuries at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital, where she was airlifted Monday night.
“It tears us up,” Garrison said. “Most of us are [parents], so she wasn’t just a baby we were trying to save – she was our Ava.”