Winnetka, News

‘Once he opened fire, I had no choice’: Winnetka homeowner tells story of shootout and police provide update

A nightmare for any homeowner was reality for a Winnetka family on Monday morning.

“People were all over my property, maybe inside my house,” said John, the homeowner whose name The Record changed to protect his identity.

An exchange of gunfire between John and at least one other individual soon followed, resulting in approximately 40 bullets flying through the residential corridor near the 400 block of Sheridan Road.

No one was reported injured, and the alleged offenders escaped with neither vehicle they attempted to steal from the home, police say.

According to a Wednesday, May 29 update from the Winnetka Police Department, at least three individuals broke into the Winnetka home through an unlocked — and difficult to access, John said — rear office door. At the time, John, his wife and his five daughters — ages 9 to 19 — were home and asleep, John said.

Entering only the one room, police believe, one or more subjects stole two sets of car keys and a wallet from a desk inside the home office before attempting to steal two vehicles — an SUV and sports car, John said. The latter was located in a locked garage that was entered by force, police say.

John and at least one of the subjects exchanged gunfire before the subjects reportedly fled south on Sheridan Road in a silver Audi sedan. While one subject initially left the scene on foot, police believe the individual was quickly picked up by the other offenders in the Audi.

In a conversation on Tuesday, a day after the encounter, John told The Record how he went from his bed sleeping to his yard firing a weapon, beginning with a confusing awakening.

“My wife was up first, and the first memory I have is something that sounded like construction noise,” he said. “I thought, ‘That can’t be right. It’s dark outside.'”

Impact marks in a stone residential wall made by bullets fired on Sheridan Road in Winnetka on Monday.

John ran to the bedroom window — the one facing the family’s detached garage, which is set back at least 50 yards from the rear of the home. He saw his car, a sports car parked in the garage, moving up the driveway. He ran downstairs, while his wife dialed 911.

On the first level, John retrieved and unlocked his gun — a .25 auto, a palm-sized, self-defense handgun that is often called a pocket pistol or mouse gun. He loaded a clip with seven rounds of hollow-point ammunition, which is commonly used in self-defense firearms and has difficulty penetrating walls.

When he got outside, John — wearing only his underwear — saw that his SUV parked in the driveway was gone, but the sports car from the garage was about 10 feet away and at a standstill behind a gate to the side of the house. An unknown person was behind the wheel.

“I held up my firearm and said, ‘Stop, stop or I’m gonna pop ya,'” John said. “In my mind, it didn’t register that he was stuck behind the gate. … But there was no reaction. All I could see were headlights.”

At that moment, John’s SUV reappeared. Someone reversed the vehicle up Sheridan Road and screeched to a halt in front of John’s home. John’s attention pivoted to the SUV, from which an individual stepped out of the driver’s seat.

John again raised his pistol. The individual from the SUV did too — and began to fire the weapon.

Calling it a “moment of clarity,” John sprinted up the sidewalk on the west side of Sheridan Road and took cover behind a tree in the parkway. Gunfire exploded up and down Sheridan Road, slamming into trees trunks and stone walls. John had emptied his clip.

The police investigation eventually showed close to 40 total shots were fired.

“Honestly, it felt like (the other person) only shot eight times,” John said. “They tell me 35 and it is mind-boggling.”

The shootout lasts no more than a minute. John said the shooter “calmly” walked back to a waiting car, a silver Audi, which flees southbound. John’s SUV is left running in the middle of Sheridan Road.

After the encounter, John looked behind him and saw the individual who moments ago was in his sports car take off on foot down Willow Road. Police believe the Audi turned down Ash Street and quickly met up with the individual on foot.

Alone now, John soon sees police cars speeding up Sheridan to his home. It’s all over in about four minutes.

“It’s something I wish didn’t happen,” he said. “I am super glad no one was killed — me or them. … I never planned to kill someone. People are all over my property, maybe in my house. I did everything I could to make them leave.

He added, “It feels like I had a moment of clarity when it happened. I didn’t even get an adrenaline rush. I had a job to do to protect my family and fortunately it worked out. … Once he opened fire, I had no choice.”

In the aftermath, and with a day of reflection, John’s most concerned for his five children. He wonders what imprint this event will leave, because he knows he is lucky to be alive.

“I don’t know if my girls know what the likely outcome actually was,” he said. “Bad things do happen.”

Police released limited descriptions of three offenders — two possible males and wearing masks and hoodies. No descriptive information is available for a third individual, believed to be the driver of the silver Audi sedan.

Winnetka police are asking anyone with information, including security footage or images, to share it with investigators by calling (847) 501-6034 or emailing

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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