convicted sex offender broke into the South Windsor home of NBA basketball star Marcus Camby early Monday, sexually assaulted his sister and then held her hostage with a kitchen knife in a tense standoff with police, authorities said.
The standoff ended peacefully about 11 a.m. - nearly eight hours after police arrived at 141 Miller Road - when the suspect, who has a long criminal history and had been dating Camby's sister, dropped the knife and surrendered to police.
Monica M. Camby, (center in white sweatshirt) sister of basketball star Marcus Camby, is escorted from her home on Miller Street after being held hostage by Hartford resident Troy Crooms.
Troy D. Crooms, 28, who was held late Monday on $500,000 bail at South Windsor police headquarters, will be arraigned this morning in Manchester Superior Court.
Crooms, of Hartford, is charged with first-degree burglary, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree assault, first-degree unlawful restraint and possession of a deadly weapon.
Monica Camby, 21, was taken to Hartford Hospital where she was released after being treated for injuries, which included cuts on the head and hands, Sgt. Matthew D. Reed, a police spokesman, said. No one else was injured.
Reed said Crooms broke into the home by entering a first-floor window sometime before 3:30 a.m. and was assaulting Camby in a second-floor bedroom when her sister, Mia, 22, awoke and tried to call police. Mia tried the home phones but they were not working. She then made a 911 call on a cellular phone, which state police answered. Town police then were sent to the home.
When police arrived they found blood splattered in the house and Crooms holding the knife at Monica Camby's throat, Reed said.
"There was lots of emotion and yelling," Reed said.
Police asked Crooms what he wanted, and Crooms told police to get out. The officers left and Marcus Camby's mother, Janice, who was also in the home at the time, went with them while Monica and Mia stayed behind.
Reed said that, unknown to Crooms, a police officer stayed and hid in the house, maintaining communication with officers at the scene.
Police then called in the Capitol Region Emergency Services Team, a group of police officers from Hartford area towns who are trained especially to deal with hostage situations. Negotiators from the team were allowed to enter the home about 9 a.m. They left shortly afterward but remained in contact with Crooms by telephone, Reed said.
About 8 a.m., Mia Camby escaped through a second-floor window and down a ladder placed in the back of the house by police, Reed said.
Crooms demanded to talk with Marcus Camby himself, a 6-foot-11center for the New York Knicks, who arrived at the scene shortly before 8 a.m. Police would not allow them to talk, but had Camby approach the home to show that he was there.
"Apparently [Crooms] felt satisfied with Marcus showing up and appearing in the driveway," Reed said.
A few hours later, Crooms dropped the kitchen knife and surrendered peacefully. At 11:09 a.m. police announced that Crooms had been arrested and Monica Camby freed.
Police said Crooms was known to the family, but had no other details.
Reed said Camby's mother had called police earlier this month about a dispute at the home, and police questioned Crooms and Mia Camby at the time but did not file any charges.
Crooms is a registered sex offender convicted of third-degree sexual assault in 1992. His most recent prison term was a six-month sentence for forgery. He was caught passing counterfeit $10 bills at Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol and Southington.
He was released from Cheshire prison on Dec. 29 and listed his address as 100 Sargeant St. in Hartford.
Reed said Crooms also has been convicted of first-degree sexual assault, unlawful restraint, larceny, forgery, possession of narcotics, criminal impersonation and failure to appear in court.
The Camby family - who made it out of Hartford's Bellevue Square because of the millions of dollars Marcus Camby is making in pro basketball - remained quiet and away from the public eye, said friends and associates.
Monica "liked the bad boys,'' said Patrick Robinson, a Hartford hairdresser. He said he introduced Crooms, his cousin, to Monica several months ago, because she asked to meet him. The couple began dating shortly after he was released from prison. They often traveled in Monica's black Mercedes truck, hanging out at Main and Tower, a Hartford nightclub, and other nightspots from New York to Washington, D.C., Robinson said.
Monica and her sister, Mia, live with their mother in South Windsor, and by all accounts are very close. Friends from their old Hartford neighborhood were distraught about the hostage situation.
"Thank God, she's all right,'' said another longtime family friend. "We were all so worried. Everybody is just holding on,'' she said. "I don't even want to talk about it."
The Knicks and the Toronto Raptors - the team that first drafted Camby in 1996 - are in the midst of a first-round playoff series, with New York having won the opening game Sunday. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Thursday night.
The Knicks sent general manager Scott Layden to South Windsor while the team was at its practice facility in Purchase, N.Y.
"This is not a distraction - let's not trivialize it," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said before learning the standoff was over. "This is life and death."
Teammate Glen Rice added: "Right now basketball is not a high priority. Everybody's mind is strictly on Marcus."
While the incident generated a frenzy of news-media attention from New York City and Connecticut, life was quickly returning to normal by early afternoon Monday in the quiet South Windsor neighborhood.
By 1:30 p.m., children were playing on a swing set in a backyard along Miller Road, only three-tenths of a mile from the Camby home - apparently oblivious to the hostage situation.
A woman who lives near the Camby family and did not want to be identified said she did not hear anything occurring at the home. She said the Camby family is quiet and is hardly ever noticed.
"I never see them. In fact, I wouldn't know them if I saw them," she said.
Jamie Andrian, a next-door neighbor of Janice Camby, said, "They are good people. They have been excellent neighbors."
She complimented the police, but she declined to answer any questions about what, if anything, she saw.
Two women, standing outside the door of the Camby home at 141 Miller Road, did not respond when asked by a reporter if they wanted to talk about the situation. A marked South Windsor police car was still stationed in the driveway, and a plainclothes officer said that all media inquiries were being handled at police headquarters nearby.
Shortly after joining the NBA, Camby purchased the home and nearly 2 acres in November 1996 for his mother and two sisters for $462,000.
The five-bedroom, four-bath Colonial was built in 1989.
The affluent neighborhood features upscale homes on large lots. While the Camby home is larger than some others on its block, it is not the largest or most spectacular home in the neighborhood.
Camby, a Hartford native, admitted accepting improper gifts while playing for the University of Massachusetts in 1990s, prompting the National Collegiate Athletic Association to strip the university of its 1996 regional championship. The NCAA ordered the university to return the money it earned by making it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
Camby turned professional that year and was the second player selected in that year's NBA draft.
Camby was arrested by South Windsor police for marijuana possession in 1997. A search of his rented car turned up a marijuana cigarette and the burned stubs of two marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray. He agreed to perform 16 hours of community service to avoid prosecution.
n a desperate plea to save the season, a fiery Jeff Van Gundy begged his players yesterday to put the Marcus Camby hostage tragedy aside and focus on the Raptors.
Camby, believed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, did not practice yesterday or take the charter flight to Toronto and will not play today in pivotal Game 3 at the Air Canada Centre. Camby's status for the rest of this deadlocked first-round series is uncertain.
"It was a very difficult decision, at the same time, no decision at all," Camby's manager Rick Kaplan said. "He doesn't feel he can play at the level needed to play to make a significant contribution. It's killing him, but what can he do."
In an impassioned rant, Van Gundy implored the Knicks to redirect their thoughts on the playoffs. He called Game 2's 94-74 loss Thursday "the worst playoff performance I've been a part of since my first year here in Game 2 vs. Boston (a 157-128 drubbing in 1990)" and added that they got a "free pass" because of the circumstances.
Van Gundy said the players can not change last Monday's tragic event in which Camby's sister was sexually brutalized after being taken hostage at knifepoint.
"Certain things we can control, and that is to play a great basketball game [today]," Van Gundy said. "I don't think there's anything else we can control. All these other things that have been swirling around, those things aren't in our control.
"Other than support, there's nothing we can do to help him," Van Gundy said. "We have to get our eyes on the prize again and the prize is advancement.
"Five days from now, we're flying home from Toronto, Wednesday night. We're flying home either having advanced, heading toward a Game 5 or going home for vacation.
"Our whole year's work is coming down to these five days and what we do with them. That doesn't take away from how badly we feel for Marcus' sister and his family. But our year's work is on the line right now."
Latrell Sprewell said he's preparing as if Camby won't be back until Round 2. "It's up to the guys who play to go out there and try to get a win for him," Sprewell said. "We can keep advancing and maybe he'll have time to put this behind him and he can come back and be effective for us."
Van Gundy senses how fragile and distracted the group has become the past few days. Besides missing a high-energy Camby, they have been without one of their gung-ho leaders in co-captain Larry Johnson, while Charlie Ward has had his character assassinated the past week over remarks he made about Jews. Meanwhile, Allan Houston, linked to the Ward controversy, also is caring for a newborn son that arrived Monday.
When a reporter began the question, "With all the things going on . . . ," Van Gundy interrupted and said, "There's one thing going on. We're playing [today]. I know this: you can't be looking at two things at the same time. If you're looking at the prize, that's where your focus is. If you're looking someplace else, you're not focusing on what's important as far as the basketball part. And I'm not saying Marcus should be doing that. Marcus should be taking care of helping him and his sister and family heal."
The Raptors, meanwhile, smell blood and if the Knicks can't contain "Air Alvin" and "Air Canada", their season will be over this week - the first time they'd be ousted in Round 1 since 1990-91.
Vince Carter finally smiled in a playoff game, heating up late in the third quarter Thursday. Guard Alvin Williams, who has buried jumper after jumper, has shown the world why the Raptors were eager to dump Mark Jackson on the Knicks.
Van Gundy called Game 2 "one of the most wretched performances you can have." "I think obviously they sense vulnerability," Van Gundy said. "They bullied us (28-13 rebounding slaughter in the second half). Now it's up to us to respond. We all got a free pass in that game because of the events surrounding the game but we put nothing into the game and therefore got nothing out of the game. We're getting a free pass and we have enough to win with if Marcus is playing or not playing."
or nearly seven hours, Monica Camby lay on her bedroom floor, locked in a bloody embrace with a convicted felon who was holding a knife to her throat and demanding to speak to her basketball star brother, Marcus.
Outside the South Windsor home, a police SWAT team faced a critical decision: Keep waiting and risk having Monica Camby bleed to death from knife wounds, or storm the bedroom, knowing Troy Crooms could easily slit her throat before anyone could stop him.
The officers knew how dangerous Crooms could be. Hours earlier, Wethersfield detectives had faxed them a report of a similar incident 10 years ago in which Crooms, armed with a pair of scissors, allegedly held a woman for two days in a motel room.
Hearing Monica Camby's voice growing weaker in the background as a police negotiator talked by telephone to Crooms, desperate officers decided on one last trick.
They were not about to let Crooms speak to Marcus Camby, but they arranged for Camby to position himself close to the police negotiator who was talking to Crooms by telephone. Then, at the request of police and in a voice loud enough for Crooms to hear over the phone, Camby said:
"I'm not talking to that bastard until he lets my sister go."
Within 30 minutes, Crooms let Monica Camby go and surrendered. He never did talk to Marcus Camby.
"Who knows if hearing Marcus' voice did it, but it wasn't long after that he gave up," said a SWAT team member who spoke to The Courant about the harrowing standoff on the condition that his name not be used.
The veteran officer's account provides new details about the bizarre April 23 incident that traumatized the Camby family and forced an emotionally drained Marcus Camby to miss a National Basketball Association playoff game Sunday between his New York Knicks and the Toronto Raptors.
It also revealed, for the first time, how deeply torn the police were about how best to end the lengthy ordeal. They feared storming the bedroom because Crooms, a career criminal with a record of assaulting women, had positioned himself with Monica Camby on the floor in such a way that he could see any movement by officers in the hallway outside.
"It would have been a no-win situation," the SWAT source said. "If we didn't go in and she died laying there, we would have been accused of doing nothing, and if we stormed in and he killed her we would have been accused of panicking."
The incident began at 3:30 a.m. with a 911 call made on a cellphone by Mia Camby, another of Marcus Camby's sisters who lived in the four-bedroom house at 141 Miller Road with Monica and their mother, Janice Camby. Mia was unable to use a regular phone because someone had pulled it out of the wall.
Police believe Crooms, who according to friends of the Camby family had dated Monica Camby, entered the house through a first-floor window in the back.
The first responding officers, Watch Commander John Bond and Officer Andre Rosedale, entered the house through a garage door, using a code Mia Camby provided for the automatic door opener. Bond heard screams coming from the second floor and ran upstairs.
There, he found Crooms holding a bloody Monica Camby in front of him, a kitchen knife pressed to her throat. It was clear she already had been cut numerous times on her hands and arms, and she had a gash above her left eye, the source said.
Crooms told Bond to "back off." Bond slowly retreated downstairs, while Rosedale found a place to hide on the second floor.
In another part of the house, police awakened Janice Camby, Monica's mother, and escorted her outside. Mia Camby stayed in her bedroom for more than four hours, finally agreeing to leave by climbing down a fire department ladder placed at a second-floor window. It was Mia Camby who called her brother Marcus in New York and told him there was trouble. Hearing the news, he immediately headed for South Windsor, arriving on the scene shortly before 8 a.m.
Sometime during the standoff, Crooms allowed an officer to enter the bedroom long enough to place a telephone on the floor. The officer was able to see that Crooms was stretched out on the floor beside the bed, holding Monica Camby on top of him, his arm wrapped around her and a knife pressed to her throat.
The officer also noticed a significant amount of blood on the floor, the police source said.
Officers on the scene quickly learned that Crooms had a history of assaulting female acquaintances. The report faxed over by Wethersfield police showed that in 1991, Crooms was arrested after holding a former girlfriend hostage for two days in a motel, threatening her with scissors and cutting off all her hair so "no one else would find her pretty," according to court records. Crooms also has a sexual assault conviction involving another woman.
Although Crooms demanded to speak to Marcus Camby, police decided not to let the NBA star talk directly to Crooms. Camby told police he didn't know Crooms personally, only as his sister's boyfriend, the police source said.
"The demand to talk to Marcus didn't make sense, since Marcus told us he didn't know the guy," the source said. "We didn't want a situation where we allowed him to talk to Marcus and then he harmed her."
Camby stood in the driveway and waved up at his sister's bedroom window, but Crooms never saw him. Instead, Crooms sent Monica Camby to the window to check on whether her brother was really there.
A short time later, the police decided to have Marcus Camby talk indirectly to Crooms. Finally, at 11:09 a.m., Crooms dropped the knife and told police he was surrendering.
Monica Camby was rushed to Hartford Hospital, where she was treated for her knife wounds and released. Crooms is being held on a bevy of charges ranging from sexual assault to kidnapping, and faces 95 years in prison.
As for Marcus Camby, his business agent later told reporters that the former Hartford Public High School and University of Massachusetts star told him it felt like he was in the movie "The Negotiator" - except that this was real life.
hen Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld informed Jeff Van Gundy the trade had been completed on NBA draft night three years ago -- the Knicks sending Charles Oakley to the Toronto Raptors for Marcus Camby -- it triggered a tantrum out of the coach that was punctuated with him storming out of the room. The Knicks coach had lost his one of his most loyal subjects, the toughest, most overachieving player in basketball for, well, maybe the softest, most underachieving young player in the pros.
This started the estrangement between Grunfeld and Van Gundy that precipitated a power struggle and the end for Grunfeld with the Knicks. Camby had long been a malingerer with the Raptors, a pampered prodigy that old coach Butch Carter described as needing a "foot in the butt," and it never happened with the Raptors. After four pitiful practices with the Knicks in the lockout season of 1999, Van Gundy dismissed Camby as a lost cause and buried him on his bench.
Nobody had ever been hard on Camby. As it turned out, nobody had ever done him this favor. Eventually, Camby fought his way to the floor, fought his way into shape and ultimately hearts of New York basketball fans. Eventually, he even won Van Gundy over, proving his worth and prompting Van Gundy to go so far as calling him, "our best player," this season.
When Patrick Ewing left for Seattle, nobody believed Camby could make it as a starting center for the Knicks. It wouldn't work with his bony build and finesse game, and yet, he's been brilliant in the job. For the Knicks, they're just grateful he's back in the lineup for these Eastern Conference playoffs. After a horrific tragedy in his family -- the hostage crises in which his mother and sisters were taken captive by a knife-wielding career criminal at their suburban Connecticut home last week, where one of his sisters was sexually assaulted -- Camby returned to the Knicks promising a sound mind and strong game against his old Raptors in Toronto.
Camby's mind has understandably been elsewhere for the Raptors series.
All his basketball life, Camby has been coming out of nowhere to make his move and mesmerize people. If Van Gundy was hesitant to bring him to the Knicks three years ago, an old UMass assistant, Bill Bayno, was most eager to get him on his side nine years ago. Bayno climbed into his car on an April day seven years ago sure he was on the road to a false alarm at the Northwest Boys Club in Hartford, Conn. Bayno was doing a friend a favor, dropping down to scout a long, lanky 17-year-old without a minute of varsity basketball to his name.
The sooner he stopped to see Camby, Bayno figured, the sooner he could return to Amherst, Mass., and get back to work. And yet, from almost the moment he walked into the gymnasium, he wondered whether they would let him stay forever. He had found a 6-foot-10 fuzzy-cheeked kid with the agility of a guard and the ability to run forever and leap to the moon.
"Those first few minutes, he gave me goose bumps," Bayno said once. "Here was a diamond in our own backyard. He was playing with a bunch of midgets, but it didn't matter. You just knew he could become something special. All I wanted to do was just hide him away so no one else could ever see what I was seeing."
Bayno eventually hustled to a pay phone that day, called his boss, John Calipari, and told him: "The kid's going to be a lottery pick and nobody knows about him."
As it goes, the Knicks are riding on the bony shoulders of the shy, soft-spoken forward who searched the courts at the Northwest Boys Club and the Bellevue Square housing projects, just trying to find a team to call his own. Now, Camby has his own, the Knicks, and through this trauma with his family, he's found how deeply the organization and coaches and teammates care for him.
There's a childish innocence to him, an immensely charitable side, and it's been impossible for people within the Knicks to be anything but crushed over what Camby had to go through these past days.
"I didn't want (the Knicks) to talk about it in light terms, like it's a distraction," Van Gundy said. "Basketball is inconsequential when you're talking about a young woman and a family who's had their life changed forever. I just hate when the two are brought up at the same time." Once, Van Gundy wasn't so sure he wanted Camby. Now, he couldn't wait to get him back. Only, of course, when Camby was prepared for it after his family's heartache. So, here comes Camby now. The most indispensable Knick of all promises to come sweeping down the lane, reaching in the air with those endless arms for the ball and the basket, and yes, it won't be a moment too soon for these Knicks. They miss him terribly.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist with the Bergen (N.J.) Record and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
e sat there, stunned that the schedule he fully expected to follow was no longer in effect. Marcus Camby figured he'd gather today with his teammates, practice and then head to Philadelphia, where tomorrow he'd be ready to battle Dikembe Mutombo and the 76ers.
Camby's expectations have been shelved, replaced by a grim reality and, for Camby, another grim reminder of what could be considered the most difficult stretch of time in his life. His season came to a crashing end, with him helpless on the bench after fouling out, watching as the Knicks could not complete their frantic comeback as the Raptors won 93-89.
This was not the ending Camby anticipated, but then again, his life lately has not followed any script he ever wanted to read. "Definitely, the worst feeling," he said softly. "I had a bad two weeks and it just got worse."
In those two turbulent weeks, Camby watched in horror as his mother and two sisters were held hostage in their Connecticut home and suffered as one of his sisters was allegedly sexually assaulted by the assailant.
|Audio clip: Camby wasn't up to playing in Game 3.|
Camby could not stay on the court long enough to have an effect down the stretch. He picked up his fifth foul with 7:40 remaining and then, with 6:15 left and the Knicks trailing by only 76-74, Camby got tangled up with Carter and was hit with his sixth foul.
"I think the whole year has been a failure," said Camby, who was limited to 34 minutes because of foul trouble. "Not get out of the first round, to lose to this team is definitely frustrating . . . I'm going to reevaluate everything, go spend time with my family and go from there."