For endless hours Wednesday, Thursday and early Friday, a young Sacramento couple waited for word about their 16-month-old son, held in their ruined apartment by a cousin described as schizophrenic and bipolar.
Through two long days and well into a second night, a community held its breath. Traffic was routed around a busy thoroughfare. Shops and restaurants closed. Evacuated apartment tenants huddled in parking lots or scrambled for temporary housing.
No one knew how it would end. Not the parents of little Michael Pittman Jr., with his thatch of dark hair. Not relatives of Anthony Alvarez, who even in a mug shot seemed to have a soft half-smile.
Police say Alvarez grabbed his cousin's son late Wednesday morning and fled into what had been the young family's haven – Apartment 29 in the aging Arden Towne Apartments. Officers had been trying to arrest Alvarez in connection with three robberies and for allegedly shooting at an officer in the Bay Area.
Since then, life has turned upside down along a faded stretch of Arden Way.
There were the small things. A dog trapped behind police lines, whose owner couldn't bring her food or water. Graduation parties in limbo at a popular ice cream parlor.
And there were the terrifyingly large ones: SWAT teams who had fired into the apartment. A man inside, possibly mentally ill and off his medications, who fired out. And sometimes, in his arms, a little boy.
Late Thursday and early Friday, Alvarez fired shots in the apartment. At 10:15 p.m. Thursday, he fired one shot. After throwing out a cell phone given to him earlier by Sacramento County sheriff's officials, he fired two shots at 12:26 a.m. Friday.
Alvarez's sister, Tessa, gasped after hearing the two Friday shots. She is waiting across the street from the apartment complex. At 12:36 a.m., he fired one shot, then another a few minutes later.
Officials said they could still hear the boy in the apartment after the gunshots. No one was injured.
The boy's parents, Alexis and Michael Pittman, met while they were still in high school in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, and married six years ago, according to his mother, Ruby Lockhart. They have two sons, Michael Jr., and his older brother Nathan, 4, who officers pulled out of a rear apartment window Wednesday moments after Alvarez ducked inside to hide.
The family moved to Sacramento about two years ago, Lockhart said. Both parents have been attending American River College.
Thursday night, Alexis Pittman posted a note to friends and well-wishers on her Facebook page: "Just wanted everybody to know that I am safe worried about my son, I love him and thank you everyone for your prayers. Let's hope they bring Michael home safe!! I love you babylove."
Later she posted: "31 hours later and i'm doin much better I was told they seen him!!! Lifted a huge weight off my heart I cried until 7 am."
Throughout the ordeal, the Pittman family and many of Alvarez's relatives stayed in close contact with authorities.
The wait outside the first- floor apartment stretched so long that SWAT teams traded off, with a city unit spelling a county sheriff's team, then rotating duties back to sheriff's deputies.
Officers tried what they could to safely dislodge Alvarez – phone calls; "flash-bang" devices thrown outside the apartment to disorient with a burst of light and sound; a blast of water from a fire hose to break apartment windows; a robot that trundled up and ripped out window coverings. They had readied a long range hailing and acoustic device, which can emit a low-pitched sound to distract a suspect.
At one point, 55 sheriff's deputies surrounded the area, watching from behind rifle sights, maintaining the scene perimeter or manning the command post. That didn't include Sacramento police, Folsom police, the California Highway Patrol, firefighters or paramedics.
Everything they did focused on one goal – bringing the little boy out safely.
Overnight Wednesday, deputies endured a fevered pace, exchanging gunfire with Alvarez on three occasions. They say that he first shot at police when officers walked up to the windows to try to break glass and remove blinds. They retreated and later sent the robot in to do the job.
By noon Thursday, the chaos settled into a steady, enduring effort to win Alvarez's trust and coax him out.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.