Gerald Sykes, his wife, and their miniature pinscher, Sarah, never heard police knock outside their rural South Jersey home, according to the family, before a state trooper shot him Friday night while responding to a disconnected 911 call.
Authorities believed the call, in which the person hung up before speaking, had come from Sykes' house. It had not. In the dark, Sykes and his wife believed the two troopers outside were intruders.
"It's been a horrible thing, something no one should have to live through," said his stepdaughter, Diana LaFalce, 56, of Clayton. "It's very frightening and overwhelming."
Her stepfather, a 76-year-old resident of Upper Deerfield, Cumberland County, who owns a communications company, was shot twice in the chest and once in the upper groin, according to the family's attorney, Rich Kaser, who is also a family friend.
Kaser said Sykes' family was "aggressively exploring" legal action, but had not taken steps yet. Sykes is angry, Kaser said, but not at police as a whole.
"He respects law enforcement," Kaser said. "So he's just - the whole thing is just unbelievable, how it happened, why. It just shouldn't have happened."
The state Attorney General's Office, which is investigating the incident and declined to comment Wednesday, has not said who or where the disconnected 911 call came from, or why authorities traced it to Sykes' home.
In a statement Saturday, the office said that authorities at first thought the call originated from a cellphone in the home, and that troopers knocked on the front door and heard no response. Then, the office said, they approached a sliding glass door in the back and knocked there, shining flashlights into the house and announcing that they were responding to a 911 call.
That differs from Kaser's and Sykes' family's account.
Kaser said Sykes' wife got out of bed just before 11:30 p.m. because she saw shadowy figures on the back deck. She then awakened her husband, who walked to the living room, also saw the figures, then walked to the bedroom to grab a shotgun from the closet.
When he walked into the living room with the shotgun, he was hit by three bullets through the glass, Kaser said. The bullets came from one trooper's 9mm service handgun, according to the state. The second trooper did not shoot.
Kaser said Sykes then fell backward and fired a shell before retreating to the bedroom bloodied and in a panic.
Kaser said he did not know how Sykes, who hunts and also keeps the shotgun for emergencies, was holding the weapon. He declined to make Sykes available for an interview, citing the ongoing investigation.
LaFalce said her stepfather was "absolutely certain" that the troopers fired first. Had they knocked on the front door, she said, the dog - which eventually barked - would have heard the troopers sooner.
Sykes and his wife, Margot, 80, a hairdresser, have lived in the house for 15 years, the family said. It is concealed from the main road by trees and farmland, and distant from other properties. One of Sykes' nearest neighbors said she slept through the incident Friday.
As of Wednesday, Sykes had been moved from intensive care to a regular room at Cooper University Hospital. He has two broken ribs, LaFalce said.
"He's still in a lot of pain. He can't move well," LaFalce said. "Everything hurts."