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Nation & World

Gwinnett firefighter hostage standoff ends; gunman dead

ATLANTA—The gunman was killed and the four firefighters who were held hostage had minor injuries after a SWAT standoff in Gwinnett County on Wednesday.

SWAT officers used “flash-bang” or concussion grenades to catch the suspect off guard as they entered the Suwanee home around 7:30 p.m. They exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was shot and killed. An officer was wounded, possibly in the hand or arm. The firefighters suffered some cuts and scrapes and were transported to a local hospital.

Gwinnett Police Cpl. Ed Ritter said the suspect faked a heart attack and demanded from police that his utilities and cable be turned back on. The utilities and cable had been shut off because he was having some financial problems.

“It’s a very bold act,” Gwinnett fire Capt. Thomas Rutledge said. “People can often be desperate. We don’t know what the situation could be.” Rutledge said the department is thankful that police got the firefighters out unharmed.

“It’s an incident people in public safety train for but hope never comes,” Rutledge said. “Tonight it did.” The unidentified man originally had five hostages, but released one firefighter to move the fire truck, authorities said.

SWAT went to the scene on Wednesday afternoon.

Firefighters had responded to a medical call at the home and shortly after arrival, around 3:10 p.m., they were taken hostage, authorities said.

One fire engine and one ambulance arrived in response to the call. In Gwinnett, firefighters are cross-trained as emergency medical responders and a medical emergency is a routine call for them, Rutledge said.

He said the firefighters were given no reason to suspect they were walking into a dangerous situation, or else their protocol would have been to stage themselves outside and wait for police to enter the home first.

Residents were being prevented from entering the subdivision. Across the street, a baseball game at Collins Hill High School scheduled for 6:30 pm was delayed and students lingered around the entrance to the school to watch police activity.

Neighbor Jaime Gossan said that she and her husband live three doors down from the home where the firefighters are being held. She said her husband saw the firefighters enter the home, and later saw SWAT officers — 30 or more — surround the house. She said that her husband, who is still in the house, also saw a robot go up to the house.

Gwinnett County police have a robot equipped with microphone and speaker through which they can talk to barricaded suspects.

A Comcast cable truck was allowed into the subdivision at about 6:15 p.m.

The Walnut Grove at Richland is a newer subdivision full of two-story traditional houses, across the street from Collins Hill High School. Neighbors said it was a quiet and safe neighborhood.

“I’m blown away,” said Steven Hayes, who moved in with his fiance and two children about eight months ago, drawn from Marietta by the good schools and parks in the area. “You’d never expect this here.” His fiance, 8-month-old daughter and 4-year-old son were forced to remain in their house a few doors down from the barricaded suspect’s home as Hayes waited anxiously at the subdivision entrance Wednesday night. His fiance told Hayes that officers were coming in and out of their house to use the bathroom, and one officer had borrowed a phone charger.

“My four-year-old probably thinks amusing,” Hayes said.”It’s like TV to him.”


Angel K. Brooks and Dan Klepal contributed to this article.



©2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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