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For years the family feud had been simmering—on Monday it boiled over.
The result: Two people shot, one house burned and one man charged with critically injuring his brother and nephew.
Since Jan. 1, 2009, the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office had received 59 calls from the residence at 1497 Haven Heights Dr. just west of Bedford off U.S. 460, most for noise complaints. But on Monday, at 3:30 p.m. a 911 call came in for that address stating that two men had been shot in the front yard.
Deputy Allison Key, an eight-year veteran of the BCSO, was the first on the scene at 3:40 p.m. She found Glen Caldwell, 61, and his son, 35-year-old Michael Caldwell, lying in the yard with gunshot wounds to the stomach and thigh. Both had lost a lot of blood.
Inside the home of 55-year-old Dennis Roy Caldwell at 1497 Haven Heights Dr. she could hear more gun shots—and an explosion. She quickly pulled the two men to a safer location, out of harm’s way.
“She was very, very brave,” stated Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown about Key’s actions. “She certainly put her life at risk.”
Soon other units from the BCSO and the Bedford Police Department arrived on the scene. Those officers quickly set up a perimeter around Dennis Caldwell’s house. They could see a subject moving around inside the residence. Smoke was coming from the attic area of the house.
More units arrived. So did fire and rescue. The two men who had been shot were carried down from the scene and placed in rescue units. U.S. 460 was shut down and two Lifeguard helicopters landed on the road to take them to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
Meanwhile, inside the home at Haven Heights Drive, law enforcement officers made phone contact with Dennis Caldwell, now known to be the alleged shooter. They would try to talk him out of the home; he wouldn’t comply. He quickly cut that contact off.
The stand-off between Caldwell and law enforcement would last four hours. Close to 40 officers from the BCSO, the Bedford Police Department, ATF in Roanoke and the Virginia State Police responded. At least that many more representatives from area fire departments and rescue crews were also at the scene. Non-flammable tear gas rounds were fired into the home.
By 7:15 p.m. the smoldering fire had erupted into intense flames inside the home. Firefighters entered the residence.
One group went in the front door. Flames blew out the door and over the firefighters’ heads, according to Brown.
“It became a very tense and dangerous situation when the fire erupted in the house,” Brown said. “It scared the heck out of me.”
The firefighters going into the basement found Dennis Caldwell in a corner, with the alleged .45-caliber pistol by his side. He was unconscious.
“They pulled him from the house, basically saving his life,” Brown stated. “He would have certainly perished in the fire.”
Caldwell was treated and was transported down the road on a backboard to a rescue unit waiting at the road’s entrance off U.S. 460. He was flown from the scene in a helicopter and taken to the University of Virginia Medical Center for burn inhalation in his throat. Warrants were obtained charging him with two counts of aggravated malicious wounding and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. More charges are likely, according to Brown.
Neighbors who waited at the entrance of Haven Heights Drive Monday as the events unfolded, said the feud between the two brothers had been going on for years. Glen Caldwell and his son, Michael, lived next door at 1493 Haven Heights Dr.
The feud, neighbors said, was over noise and property lines. The shooting took place in front of where Glen and Michael Caldwell were building a garage.
“The two had bad blood,” stated Johnny Ruff, a long-time neighbor of the Caldwells. “I’ve seen it coming. … I told them they needed to get along.”
Heather Keyes, another neighbor, agreed. “The two were always at each other’s throat, fighting back and forth. … It’s scary.”
Debra Caldwell Witt, the mother of Michael Caldwell and ex-wife of Glen Caldwell, learned about the shooting of her son while at a convenience store. The clerk at the store told her.
“I hauled it over here,” she said. “I didn’t stop (for anything).”
She said the two brothers had been arguing for years, ending up in court pitted against each other several times over “stupid stuff.”
“But I wasn’t expecting this today,” Witt said. “You don’t ever expect anything like this.”
While at the scene Witt provided law enforcement with a layout of Dennis Caldwell’s home, several times answering questions relayed down from the officers surrounding the residence to the officers stationed at the road’s entrance where she and several neighbors waited for the situation to be resolved.
What escalated the feud Monday is not yet known, and might never be known for sure, according to Brown. It is believed that Dennis Caldwell had other guns and a large amount of ammunition in the home.
On Monday night both shooting victims were listed in critical condition and had been in surgery. Hospital staff could not provide an update on their conditions Tuesday morning.
Sheriff Brown said the goal of the response was to resolve it by keeping law enforcement officers and the fire and rescue units at the scene safe.
“I cannot say enough about the firefighters and rescue squad members (who responded),” Brown said. Several firefighters and deputies were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
“It could have been much, much worse than it was,” Brown said of the danger the firefighters and law enforcement officers faced. “They went above and beyond. They were heroes.”
Brown added he was grateful for the efforts of the Tactical team and other law enforcement officers who responded.
“It’s the biggest standoff situation (we’ve had) since I’ve been here,” he added.
Bedford Fire Chief Brad Creasy said firefighters entered Dennis Caldwell’s house after seeing smoke build in the house for about 30 minutes. “We were given the OK that we could go in,” he said.
Creasy said the conditions were such that anyone in the house would have been unconscious or dead.
“We agreed we would go ahead, put the fire out and locate the subject,” he said. “We went ahead and proceeded business as usual for us. … There was so much smoke coming from the house and for such a long time, we really weren’t concerned about there being any threat from him (Caldwell).”
He said it wasn’t really any different than any other fire response. At one point, because of a lack of ventilation upstairs, several firefighters exited through a window until it could be established.
“Conditions worsened very rapidly on the first floor,” he said. Ventilation is used to improve conditions on the interior to push smoke out. “All ended well,” he added about the response to the fire.