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Georgia hostage-taker dead after SWAT team rescues firefighters

April 10, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • The Gwinnett County police work at the home in Suwanee, Ga., where five firefighters had been taken hostage.
The Gwinnett County police work at the home in Suwanee, Ga., where five firefighters… (Hyosub Shin / Atlanta Journal-Constitution )

A man who took five Atlanta-area firefighters hostage Wednesday was dead hours later after trading fire with a SWAT team that entered the home where the firefighters were being held, officials said.

One SWAT officer was shot in the arm or hand and was expected to survive, officials said. Four firefighters had superficial injuries from an unidentified SWAT explosive used to enter the home but were expected to go home Wednesday night after treatment, Gwinnett County police spokesman E.J. Ritter told reporters. 

The fifth firefighter had been released earlier, unharmed.

The raid on the Suwanee, Ga., home happened about 7:35 p.m., when the sound of an explosive set off a car alarm. The blast was followed by several gunshots.

Ritter told reporters the firefighters were in "imminent danger."

The five firefighters had responded to a routine medical call for a possible heart attack, officials said.

“We don’t know if it was a fake heart attack or it was some kind of medical condition," Ritter said. “Apparently, he’s going through some financial issues."

The gunman, whose identity had not been released, had "multiple handguns, multiple rifles," according to emergency scanner audio captured from local officials and posted online before the raid.

"We are in a situation where we have an armed person, and he is requesting certain utilities to be turned back on at his house, and he is armed, and we are in the room with him," said one speaker in the scanner audio, apparently one of the firefighters in the home.

The gunman "is demanding the power be restored to this residence within five minutes. ... The person is demanding the cable be turned on by 5:30," the speaker said. "The person demands full cable, Internet -- and what, sir? -- and telephone, please.

"I need to give you a telephone number, and it's a Verizon carrier, and the phone needs to be reactivated within" -- he stops as someone speaks -- "within one hour, and I will give you the phone number. This will be his communication from him to whoever is outside," the speaker says.

The speaker added that "the utilities need to be repaired before there's any contact."

Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Thomas Rutledge told reporters earlier that the firemen hadn't had any indication they were walking into a trap before entering the home without police assistance.

"In my 25 years I've never witnessed anything like this," he said, according to FOX-5 Atlanta television.

After the raid was over, Rutledge told reporters the department may reconsider its policy on routine medical calls.

The incident took place about four months after a Webster, N.Y., man, William Spengler, set fire to a car at his home and ambushed responding firefighters on Christmas Eve.  Two firefighters died and two were wounded, and Spengler killed himself.

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