ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man told five firefighters that he took them hostage at gunpoint on Wednesday instead of police because he knew they would be unarmed, police said on Thursday.
Lauren Brown, 55, died in a gunfight with a police officer who was trying to rescue the firefighters at Brown’s home in suburban Atlanta after a standoff that lasted nearly four hours, police said.
Brown called 911 complaining of chest pains. The firefighters who responded found him in bed, appearing to suffer from a condition that restricted his movement, Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters said in a news conference on Thursday.
Brown then aimed a handgun at the firefighters and demanded that they help get utilities to restore his electricity, cable television and cell phone service.
The ensuing standoff with police, followed by the shootout that freed the firefighters, rattled the well-groomed neighborhood of two-story homes that residents described as safe and quiet.
Police said Brown, who got up from the bed but never left his bedroom, fired at the first officer to enter the room and hit him in the arm. The wounded officer fired back, killing Brown, a divorced father of at least two children.
The officer underwent surgery on Thursday for his injury, police said. Four of the firefighters also received minor injuries from an explosive device the police used to disorient the suspect during the rescue.
Brown had earlier released a fifth firefighter to move a fire truck from the front of his home, officials said.
Brown, who lived alone, had been in the house for about 10 years, police said. The home was in foreclosure, local media reported, and an eviction order was issued on March 15, said Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department Captain Barry Milliner.
Brown’s utility accounts had been deactivated due to unpaid bills, police said.
Police Corporal Jake Smith said officers had been to Brown’s home about a dozen times in the past decade, usually for minor calls such as code violations and animal complaints. He was arrested last year for failing to appear in court for a traffic offense, Smith said.
On Wednesday, Brown told the firefighters, who are also trained as paramedics, that he had been planning to take hostages for several weeks, police said.
A dispatch tape released by several local TV stations recorded one of the firefighters explaining what was happening inside the house as the incident began to unfold.
“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,” said the fireman, who was not identified. “And he is armed, and we are in the room with him.”
The fireman said Brown had multiple handguns and rifles in the home.
Police said Brown gave them short deadlines for his utilities to be restored, and several of the demands were met as part of the negotiations with him.
But as the hours passed, Brown refused to release his four remaining hostages.
“He was not negotiating, he was demanding,” Walters said, adding Brown never made his ultimate goals clear.
The chief said SWAT officers initiated the rescue after negotiators determined Brown would not release the firefighters even if all his requests were met.
One of Brown’s final demands would prove his undoing. After asking for food to be delivered to the house, he allowed two hostages to leave the bedroom to accept it from an officer.
When the firefighters opened the front door, police swarmed inside, detonated diversion devices and killed Brown, they said.
Police said they found six guns in the home. The incident remains under investigation.
Reporting by David Beasley; Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Alden Bentley, Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio