Skip to main content

Police: Man killed after taking firefighters hostage in suburban Atlanta

By Greg Botelho and David Mattingly, CNN
updated 10:03 AM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: All those injured are in good condition and/or have been released, a hospital official says
  • Firefighters responding to a medical call are taken hostage inside a Georgia home
  • The hostage taker, who had financial issues, demanded utilities be turned back on
  • He was killed in a raid by authorities; 4 firefighters and an officer suffered injuries

Suwanee, Georgia (CNN) -- A gunman in apparent financial distress took several firefighters hostage Wednesday in suburban Atlanta, then was killed in an exchange of gunfire hours later after law enforcement authorities determined he might lash out at his captives.

"It got to the point where we believed that (the firefighters') lives were in immediate danger," Gwinnett County police spokesman Ed Ritter said Wednesday night. "And our SWAT team made the decision to go in there and neutralize the situation."

All four Gwinnett County firefighters who were being held hostage suffered "superficial" injuries after authorities used explosives "to distract the suspect to get in the house and take care of business," Ritter explained. Their injuries were the result of the explosions, not gunfire, and all four were expected to go home by night's end.

One law enforcement officer was shot in the incident, but his injury is not considered life-threatening, according to Ritter. All those involved in the incident -- including the Gwinnett County police officer -- were in good condition as they were treated at Gwinnett Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Beth Okun said. Several have been released, she said.

"They are simply relieved that the situation is over," said Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Thomas Rutledge. "The firefighters are glad to be getting treated ... and really work on getting their lives back to normal."

Neighbors embrace after a hostage situation ends in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, April 10. A gunman in apparent financial distress took several firefighters hostage the Atlanta suburb, then was killed in an exchange of gunfire hours later after law enforcement authorities determined he might lash out at his captives. Neighbors embrace after a hostage situation ends in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, April 10. A gunman in apparent financial distress took several firefighters hostage the Atlanta suburb, then was killed in an exchange of gunfire hours later after law enforcement authorities determined he might lash out at his captives.
Firefighters rescued in hostage standoff
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Photos: Georgia firefighters rescued Photos: Georgia firefighters rescued
Hear call from firefighter taken hostage
Police: Firefighter hostage suspect dead
Neighbor: SWAT explosions rocked house

The hostage situation began around 3:40 p.m. Wednesday when the firefighters went to a residence in Suwanee "for some type of medical call," Ritter said. Four hours later, he noted authorities still weren't sure whether that call was for a "fake heart attack" or the gunman was actually suffering from a medical condition.

One fire engine and an ambulance were sent to the scene, as is customary, Rutledge said. He explained that the firefighters involved are cross-trained as paramedics so they can provide aid to county residents in purported medical emergencies like this, which happen "hundreds of times throughout the year."

"This is what they do, it's what they do very well," said Rutledge, saying the firefighters had no reason to think this situation would turn violent. "This call seemed to be no different ... They were caught off guard."

Five firefighters had gone inside the home -- a two-story structure, one of many in the neighborhood about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta -- with a stretcher, then a single firefighter ran out about 30 minutes later, according to neighbors. Rutledge said one firefighter was let go so he could move the fire truck from in front of the house.

The house was foreclosed upon in November and was being prepared for sale, said Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie Mac. It was not clear what, if anything, that fact had to do with what unfolded Wednesday.

Jake Major, an 18-year-old neighbor who used to mow the alleged hostage taker's lawn, said he seemed "really nice, ... like a normal guy." His yard, though, "was a mess (and) inside it was just as bad," Major said.

Ritter, the police spokesman, said that the unidentified gunman started making demands related to the house after taking the firefighters hostage.

"The power was turned off along with the cable and cell phone and so on, and he wanted all those things turned back on," said Ritter, adding that "apparently he was going through some financial issues."

Hostage negotiators were on site, as were agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Richard Coes, a spokesman for that agency.

As scores of law enforcement officers converged on the site, Major said his only hope was that everything he was hearing about the situation "was wrong."

"I knew that (once) it had escalated to this level, ... it wasn't going to end well," said Major, who lives about a block away. "Whatever happened, it wasn't going to end well."

Explosions rang out around 7:30 p.m., and soon after ambulances rushed away from the scene.

"Thirty seconds later, I knew everything was OK," said Wesley Gossan, who lived two doors down, of the sequence of big and small explosions, followed by a flurry of gunfire. "Because the (firefighters) walked out, they took their hard hats off."

Ritter explained later that there had been an exchange of "gunfire between officers and that individual."

"This was his call, his decision, this was the result of his actions," the police spokesman said.

"We didn't want it this way. But he was calling the shots."

Shooter who ambushed firefighters left note showing intent

Firefighter arrives to find own house in flames

Philly fire captain dies near anniversary of fire deaths

CNN's David Mattingly reported from Suwanee, and Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN's Dave Alsup, Chandler Friedman, Vivian Kuo and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 8:27 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
updated 8:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
updated 5:34 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT