SUWANEE, Ga. – An armed man who was having financial problems held four firefighters for hours in a suburban Atlanta home, demanding his cable and power be turned back on, before being shot dead when SWAT members stormed the house, authorities said Wednesday. The hostages had cuts and bruises from explosions that officers set off to distract the gunman before moving in, but they will be fine, a fire official said.
Minutes before the police announcement on the resolution, a huge blast could be heard a quarter-mile away from the home, shuddering through the Suwanee neighborhood, setting off car alarms.
Earlier Wednesday, five firefighters responded to what seemed like a routine medical call and were eventually taken hostage by an unidentified suspect inside the house, police said. The gunman released one of the firefighters to move a fire truck but held the other four.
Dozens of police and rescue vehicles surrounded the home and a negotiator was keeping in touch with the gunman, police said. The situation remained tense until the blast rocked the neighborhood of mostly two-story homes and well-kept lawns. Residents unable to get into their neighborhood because of the police cordon flinched and recoiled as the enormous blast went off.
Soon after the stun blast, officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and a SWAT member was shot in the hand or arm, but should be fine, said Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter. Ritter would not saw how the gunman was fatally shot, saying it was being investigated.
“The explosion you heard was used to distract the suspect, to get into the house and take care of business,” Ritter said in a news conference minutes after the resolution. He said the situation had gotten to the point where authorities believed the lives of the hostages were in “immediate danger.”
The gunman, who has not been identified, demanded several utilities be restored, Ritter said. According to public records, the home is in foreclosure and has been bank-owned since mid-November.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance we did not want to end this way,” Ritter said. “But with the decisions this guy was making, this was his demise.”
Firefighters were able to use their radios to let the dispatch center know what was going on, said Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said, and Ritter said officials decided to “get control of the situation” and do it swiftly.
The incident occurred about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, in the Interstate 85 corridor, and Rutledge said the initial medical call seemed routine and firefighters did not believe there was any danger. One engine and one ambulance responded. Ritter said authorities didn’t yet know if the suspect may have faked a heart attack or some other problem to bring the firefighters to his home.
“Our firefighters responded to a call they respond to hundreds of times, and that’s a medical emergency,” Rutledge said.
Two ambulances could be seen leaving after the gunfire ended.
Asked what kind of weapon or weapons the suspect had, Ritter said he didn’t immediately know. He said investigators were in the house where the suspect’s body remained.
A spokeswoman for Gwinnett Medical Center said Wednesday night that five firefighters and a police officer were treated at the hospital and all were in good condition. A couple firefighters had already been released, and it was expected that all of the firefighters would be going home Wednesday night.
“In talking to the firefighters and their families just now, they’re relieved,” the fire department’s Rutledge said Wednesday evening at the same briefing, according to video posted by WSB-TV. “They’re simply relieved that the situation is over, that their family members are with them and that they’re safe.”
This was the second time in recent months that firefighters have been targeted.
On Dec. 24, a man in upstate New York set his house ablaze and shot and killed two firefighters as they arrived, then himself. Two other firefighters and a police officer were wounded.
Lucas reported from Atlanta.