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Bank Hostage Situation in Indiana

Aired September 4, 2001 - 11:13   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to show you a live situation that's under way right now in Lowell, Indiana. This is in southern Lake County of Indiana. You're looking now at a police standoff outside of a bank. This is Centier Bank.

According to reports from our affiliates, and also from the Associated Press wires, there are hostages -- the wires are saying nine hostages inside this Centier Bank, our affiliates are saying possibly 10 to 20 hostages. We have no idea exactly how this whole thing got started. We understand according to these reports that it has been under way since 9:00 a.m. this morning.

Again, we're keeping our eye on this situation. We have not seen any other activity aside from what you see here. Again, just to recap it for you, WFLD, our affiliate there is providing the picture for us, is telling us that this is a standoff with 10 to 20 hostages, possibly, inside this bank, The Centier Bank, in Lowell, Indiana, which is in south Lake County. We will keep you posted.

Actually, we're now seeing some activity now. We're seeing one of the police or sheriff's vehicles moving. Let's see if we can listen -- there's nothing to listen in, unfortunately, because there's no -- we have no track with any reporters or anchors speaking on it right now. We are trying to work the phones on this one, I assume guys, in the control room to get someone on the phone and give us an idea of what's happening on the ground there?

Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER, WFLD (voice-over): Outside of the Centier Bank, that is located on Commercial, which is route 2, right around I- 65. We have some word from the police down there that there is one gunman with a sawed-off shotgun inside of the bank. You can see other there are other commercial -- there are other businesses in that area. You saw a restaurant around there.

Some reports in, also, that some of the buildings around there, including the restaurants, have been evacuated. We also have learned that there are two schools in the area, that would be Lowell High School as well as Three Creeks Elementary School. The school superintendent told us that the police called them immediately after this situation become a hostage situation, and the gunman was holed up inside of Centier Bank, that the schools immediately went into lockdown. That means the children, the faculty, the administrators are inside of the school. Every bit of information we have is that they are all safe, but it is in a lockdown situation, meaning no one can enter and no one can leave the school as well.

Now, you are looking at live pictures right of the scene where police officers, as you can see, are outside of the bank. You can see that SWAT team members are there behind the cars. We also have word that FBI agents have been called in. It's not clear right now whether or not they have been in there on the scene. Of course, the FBI can be called in because of a bank robbery situation.

Joining us on the telephone right now is one of the residents, a nearby residents of the area, Larry Wisent (ph). Larry has gone over to the scene a couple of times.

And Larry, you have been able to find out information from the police there, is that it?

LARRY WISENT (PH): No. Just from information from people that have known people that know the police. There are 18 to 20 people involved.

REPORTER: Inside as hostages?

WISENT: And I did witness the SWAT team escorting the people from the restaurant.

REPORTER: All right. Taking them out of which restaurant?

WISENT: That would be George's Restaurant, right across the street from the bank.

REPORTER: OK. George's Restaurant, and I think we see from our live shot from Chopper 7, there's a pizza restaurant there?

WISENT: Yes. That's the Pizza Hut.

REPORTER: All right. Have people been evacuated from that, also?


REPORTER: So there are two restaurants right there across from the bank?


REPORTER: And then is there anything we can't quite see? We see a parking lot in front of the bank. Is there -- are there other businesses on the other side too?

WISENT: Yes, there's a grocery store, a couple of department stores, a laundry mat, a clothing store. I believe those probably have been evacuated, too, at this time.

REPORTER: But you're not certain right now?


REPORTER: You just know that you saw people being taken out of the restaurants.

WISENT: Right.

REPORTER: Now, there are also two schools there. Are they on the other side of the road?

WISENT: Lowell High School is right across the street from the bank. They've got them in a total lockdown.

REPORTER: Yes, we know that, we were told by the school superintendent, who is also there monitoring the situation.

Now what about the elementary school? How far away is that?

WISENT: That's probably about -- I would say maybe half a mile, three-quarter a mile away. That's back behind it.

REPORTER: Half a mile behind the high school?

WISENT: No. Behind the bank.

REPORTER: Behind the bank, on the other side.

WISENT: Right.

REPORTER: So that situation -- that school also is in a lockdown?

WISENT: From what I've heard.

REPORTER: And Larry, what about the police presence in that area? We know that the Lowell police have been called in. Their SWAT team has been called in. Have you seen FBI agents there yet?

WISENT: I've seen a couple FBI squads pull up, I believe they're FBI. They got Cedar Lake there, they've got county, they've got state, they've got Lowell. They've got ambulances from all over the -- from the towns from around us, all sitting down, waiting in case something does happen.

REPORTER: Now did you or anyone you talked to hear shots fired?

WISENT: No. As far as I know, no shots have been fired yet.

REPORTER: We've got some word. I'm not sure where this comes in. But we did get word that the bank robber drove a truck there, and the truck is outside of the bank now, and the tires may have been shot out by police?

WISENT: That I don't know about that. Something like that, they probably wouldn't shoot them out. They would probably just let the air out, because they're in a situation where they're pretty much blocked because of the windows. REPORTER: Now, the word that you have from people is that of those 18 to 20 hostages, how many are staff, how many were customers, and is everybody OK inside?

WISENT: Everybody is OK. As far as how many, I don't know. I've got a sister that works there, but luckily she's on vacation right now.

REPORTER: That's good. Glad to hear that. But there are employees as well as customers inside of that bank.


REPORTER: Now, we can see, because we're looking from Chopper 7, but it's -- we can see the bank, but it's hard to tell if there are a lot of windows, or if one side is all brick.

WISENT: No, the only windows is the drive up windows in the rear, and then there's just the windows right there by the door. And that's the only windows. It's pretty much secluded in there.

REPORTER: So it is. So there's -- the police officers would be unable to be able to see inside of that bank, right?

WISENT: It would be real hard for them to see inside. The windows are tinted. Yes, like I said, the only windows they got is the ones right there in the front by the doorway. And then they've got windows in the back where the tellers go.

REPORTER: Where the drive-up is.

WISENT: Right.

REPORTER: ALL right, Larry Wisent, who is a resident in that area, who's also been to the scene a couple of times, we thank you for joining us and giving us that information.

A recap very quickly now. Once again there is a hostage and standoff situation at the Centier Bank; that is in Lowell, Indiana, about 43 miles southeast of the city of Chicago, just across the border in Indiana.

We are told by the Lowell police that it was a bank robbery, one person walking into the bank this morning with a sawed-off shotgun. Something went wrong and that person then took the bank's staff and customers inside hostage.

One of the residents in the area, Larry Wissent is telling us that he believes just from knowing the area and talking to people there that it may be 18 to 20 people inside. We haven't had a confirmation of that from the Lowell police.

SWAT teams are there. Apparently the FBI has also been called out.

Joining us right now on the telephone is Annette Green, who is also a resident in the area, who's been able to get some information about what law enforcement has been doing there and how many people may be inside.

Annette, are you there on the phone?

ANNETTE GREEN: Yes, I am, thanks.

REPORTER: What have you been able to find out about the people inside the bank?

GREEN: Not very much. That -- we haven't heard -- they can't make communication with the guy who took them hostage. We -- they've been trying, but they can't make any communication.

REPORTER: Meaning that you are aware that police have been trying to call into the bank, but haven't been able to get anyone to answer.

GREEN: Right, right. There's no one answering their calls. They're not answering -- he's not answering and the hostages are not answering.

REPORTER: All right.

From what you know about that area and what you know about the bank, would you say that the other resident who called who said that he thinks there's 18 to 20 people inside, does that sound like accurate number to you?

GREEN: Yes, very accurate.

REPORTER: Are you get that from some police in the area?

GREEN: Yes, from some of the scanning in the area. Yes.

REPORTER: OK. So the police scanners you're able to monitor?

GREEN: Right. A little bit. As much as I can.

REPORTER: And from what you can monitor also what kind of police presence is there?

GREEN: They have police officers in the air. They have SWAT teams on the ground. I understand that they've called the FBI in, of course, because it is a bank situation, it's one of the things they always do. They have patrolmen on duty, also. And they're fully staffed in a perimeter around the area.

REPORTER: And from what you hear on the police scanners too, any shots fired? Anybody hurt?

GREEN: No, nothing at this time.

REPORTER: So as far as we know everyone inside of the bank and outside around the bank, no injuries. GREEN: No injuries that I know of right now, no. Everybody seems to be OK, so let's hope that it stays that way and they can capture this guy without any injuries.

REPORTER: That's right, let's hope so.

All right, Annette, we thank you very much.

GREEN: OK, you're welcome.

REPORTER: So once again, very quickly recaping, now. That's the Centier Bank in Lowell, Indiana, about 43 miles southeast of the city of Chicago. One person, one man, went inside sometime this morning apparently with sawed-off shotgun and something went wrong with the bank robbery. There may be up to 20 people being held hostage inside of the bank.

We mentioned a truck earlier. We do see one parked outside in front of the bank right now. We don't know if that belongs to offender or not.

We're also told that with the local police presence and the FBI there that right now it's a standoff, that a number of restaurants and businesses on all sides of the bank have been evacuated. Definitely at least two restaurants right across from there.

Lowell High School is across the street from that bank. That school is in a lockdown right now, no one in and no one out. And that everyone at Lowell High School is safe.

Also that Three Creeks Elementary School is about a half mile away from there on the other side of the bank, that school also in lockdown situation, meaning, once again, no one in, no one out. And everyone there in that school is safe.

So that's the situation right now.

HARRIS: And as that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we'll step out here.

We want to thank our affiliates WLS from Chicago and also WFLD for this live coverage that we're getting on this bank situation with the hostages there being held inside the bank. No word -- no confirmation exactly how many. It may be as many as 20 or so. We'll keep our eye on this situation.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: And we're hearing those hostages are made up of both employees and customers in the bank.

It appears to have been a bank robbery, something went wrong apparently. One man walking in with a sawed-off shotgun and is still inside that bank.

HARRIS: And they've been there since 9:00 a.m. we're hearing from -- at least from the eyewitnesses who have been speaking with our affiliate WLS. We've been hearing that they've been inside this bank for at least now 9:00 a.m., but that's local time I would assume. I'm not sure if that's Central Time in that part of Indiana. We're not. We'll have to confirm that...

MCEDWARDS: Just southeast of Chicago.

HARRIS: Yes. We'll have to check on that later on.

We understand that there are two schools involved here. That one high school, as you heard, right across the street from there is under lockdown. Also, Three Creeks Elementary, about a half mile behind this bank, also lockdown. And all of those businesses and restaurants have been evacuated, and so far we don't know that anyone's hurt.

MCEDWARDS: All right, we're going to stay with this right here on CNN. We'll take a short break and be back.



Leon Harris here, along with Colleen McEdwards this morning.

We've been following this breaking situation in Lowell, Indiana, which is just southeast of the city of Chicago, a the bank -- a big hostage situation. A robbery that apparently went bad is now in a hostage situation and it has been so for the last hour and a half.

We've been following this through our affiliates WFLD and WLS.

And now let's listen in and get the latest.

REPORTER: ... try to pick up your children. You can see the athletics fields of the school as well. Things are very quiet there. The school is in a lockdown situation, and we are told the school superintendent has gone to the school there to manage the situation there.

Three Creeks Elementary School, which, we are told, is to the other side of the bank, also is in a lockdown situation. And once again, parents should stay away from that area for right now because people are not being allowed into the area.

Once again, if you are joining us, earlier this morning a -- one person, we are told, went into the Centier Bank, that is on Commercial Avenue, just outside of Lowell, went into the Centier Bank armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Something went wrong with that bank robbery attempt, and all of the people inside of the bank -- customers and employees -- are being held hostage right now. No shots have been fired, as far as we can tell.

Looking at the shot from Chopper Seven, you can see that there are now officers outside of the pizza restaurant, which is just to one side of the bank. We are told that that restaurant has been evacuated.

We are seeing some activity now where it appears that members of the SWAT team are moving much closer to the bank. This may be an indication that they have been able to or they are still trying to get in touch with the offender. We were told by someone who was scanning the police radios that, up until just a few minutes ago, the Lowell Police had not been able to be in contact with the offender inside, that they were making telephone calls inside, but they had not been able to.

I would guess this is a very tense situation for those officers right now who are walking up to the door of the bank. So we, of course, will be staying on that and watching to see what they are doing as they walk up to the door.

MCEDWARDS: We are watching CNN's affiliate coverage, courtesy of WFLD in Lowell, Indiana, where there has been a bank robbery. One suspect, apparently, is still inside of that bank. You see the activity outside of the door. He apparently had a sawed-off shotgun when he walked in.

On the line with us now we have Rick Decorrobo -- I hope that I got that the right, Rick -- the administrator in that area. Tell us what you know at this point.

RICK DAL CORROBO, LOWELL, INDIANA, ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR: Unfortunately, we know very little other than, shortly before 9:00, one of our secretaries from town hall was trying to get to work and called us from her car phone and said that she would be late because there was, apparently, an accident or something, and the traffic was held up down Route 2, which is our main street through town. And then a little while later, we heard that there was something going on at the bank, and a couple of our town employees that were out were told they needed to go to the high school because was in lockdown.

And that's really about all that we know. Obviously, the police have more to do other than tell us what is going to here.

MCEDWARDS: So where are you in relation to this bank.

DAL CORROBO: We're probably two miles away down the street.

MCEDWARDS: Have you heard anything? We know that some people who have been there near the scene have heard who's inside and how many. What are you hearing?

DAL CORROBO: We are not hearing anything. We don't know.

MCEDWARDS: And the areas, the buildings in the area around you, what's happening there?

DAL CORROBO: Everybody's just staying in and trying to stay calm.

MCEDWARDS: What have police told you to do?

DAL CORROBO: Just not to be driving around, just to stay where we are.

MCEDWARDS: So is your building -- we heard the schools described as in lockdown. We know that's the term that's used in the education system. Is anybody going in and out of your building at this point? How seriously are you taking this?

DAL CORROBO: We are trying to stay here and keep by the phone and see if there is anything that we can do to help at all, and that's it, that's it. We're kind of sitting tight.

MCEDWARDS: And you've got employees, people whom might be using this bank at this time of day?

DAL CORROBO: Not at this time. Probably a little later on, there might be somebody going there from the Clerk's or Treasurer's Office, to make a deposit or something.

MCEDWARDS: Rick Dal Corrobo, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Again, you are watching CNN's coverage, these pictures courtesy of our affiliate WFLD. You're looking at the exterior of a bank in Lowell, Indiana, southeast of Chicago, where earlier, at about 9:00 a.m. local time, a hostage situation got under way. We have heard through the local affiliates reporting there in the word that they have got from the officials that there's anywhere from 10 and 20 people inside. We were hearing 18 to 20. Certainly, it sounds like as many as 20 people are in there, including bank employees and customers who were there at the time, when a man, apparently, walked in with a sawed-off shotgun, something went wrong with the robbery attempt, and this hostage situation ensued.

HARRIS: Sorry to interrupt you. We are now seeing people being walked out of the bank.

MCEDWARDS: We know that the SWAT is there and the FBI had been called in. You can see the SWAT team is backing up there what seem to be shields.

HARRIS: They have walked out with two. It looks as though there's one SWAT team person escorting two people who had been inside the bank. And you see them now running.

MCEDWARDS: You see them making a run for it now, the police still giving them protection.

We heard there are windows in the front of that bank, but not many. They're tinted -- very hard, we have heard, for police to see inside.

HARRIS: It would be interesting to get back to the affiliate, who is talking to the man who is listening on the police scanner, to find out what they are doing. Obviously, they're using the Pizza Hut as a staging area.

MCEDWARDS: Some of the folks who were monitoring the scanners were saying that they had heard that police tried to make contact inside, had tried to speak to anyone inside, either the employees or to get ahold of the people who is allegedly holding these people host. They had no luck and weren't able to make any contact. Obviously, something has happened to get what we have seen, which is two people out.

HARRIS: The door does appear to be maybe opening slightly. We don't know if that's the method of communication they are using.

Let's see if we can get back into the audio feed from the affiliate and see what we can hear now.

WLS REPORTER: ... meaning no one in, no one out.

Joining us on the telephone is Dr. Donald Yeoman, who is the school superintendent in that district.

Dr. Yeoman, what can you tell us about what parents should be doing right now, and is anyone in both schools safe?

DR. DONALD YEOMAN, LOWELL SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: First of all, we have six schools, and all students at all schools are safe. We have a crisis plan that went into effect approximately 9:00 a.m. this morning. All schools were in lockdown. About 10:00, we allowed the students then to change classes within the buildings, and all the doors remained locked, with employees at every door to keep them locked.

WLS REPORTER: Dr. Yeoman, we lost part of what you said. May I ask you to repeat that? First you said there are six schools. What are those six schools?

YEOMAN: We have Lowell High School, which is approximately 300 yards from the bank; we have Three Creeks Elementary School, which is approximately a half mile from the bank; and then we have four schools in another sections of town, and one out of town.

WLS REPORTER: And is it just the two schools or all of the schools in a lockdown right now.

YEOMAN: All of the schools were in a lockdown at 9:00. At about 10:00, we told the principals to allow the students to change classes for their next period class within the building. But all of the schools remain locked.

WLS REPORTER: Dr. Yeoman, I am sorry, it's -- I don't know if it's just I'm having trouble hearing you, but I think I did hear that all of the schools are currently still in a locked situation?

YEOMAN: Correct.

WLS REPORTER: So parents should stay away right now.

YEOMAN: That's correct. We're releasing elementary kindergarten students that would normally be released in just a little while. We're asking those parents that typically pick up their child to report to that school and come into the building and physically take that child home. WLS REPORTER: I am sorry, Dr. Yeoman, it's apparently I am having some trouble hearing everything that you are saying. So parents are being asked that...

HARRIS: We're going to switch away from the feed from our affiliate WLS to go to this one from WFLD. Moments ago, they had a tight shot of the front of the building, and we saw what looked like the SWAT officers again walking into the building, as we saw them do moments ago. Moments ago, they did so and walked out with two.

We'll showing you right now a replay of that. This is a replay of the release of two of the hostages that were inside of the bank. And of course, we have no idea if these were employees or customers or whatever. We understand there are somewhere between 10 and 20 of them inside with this gunman right now.

MCEDWARDS: Buildings in the area, as we have been hearing, are locked down or evacuated. That restaurant you saw there, the Pizza Hut, and there are some other buildings in the area. As many as six schools in the area are locked down, kids inside safe.

We're back to a live picture. As you can see, there's not much happening outside at the moment. You can see, there are not many windows in front of the bank. They are tinted. It's a little bit hard for police and to see in. We are told there is one man inside with a sawed-off shotgun. Ten to 20 hostages are possible, including bank employees and members of the public who were in the bank.

Can we listen in here again?

HARRIS: You mentioned the schools in the area. The helicopter that is providing us this shot is actually hovering over the campus of one of those schools, Lowell High School. We've been -- we heard the distance described as 300 yards way, from this bank. As you can see as they pull back, the helicopter is actually over the high school campus area.

Moments ago, we thought we saw some people going into this building. And we don't know if they are still inside there, or if we've missed them coming out, or whatever.

Let's go ahead and dip into the other affiliate and see if we can get some information from the audio there.

DR. DONALD YEOMAN, LOWELL SCHOOL SUPT.: ... put that on our computer system, where they can call up on their computer. We'll put it on our message machine. We've also called the various radio stations that we deal with on bad weather throughout the winter to leave that message as well.

UNKNOWN REPORTER, WLS: You know that we will keep calling you, and we'll find out and let people know, right?

YEOMAN: Certainly.

REPORTER: As we have kept calling you this morning. YEOMAN: Certainly.

REPORTER: All right, so the next thing...

HARRIS: We are joined now on the phone by a gentleman that we hope is going to give us some more information.

Deputy Chief Melvin Maxwell, and I understand, chief, you are with Lake County. Is that correct?

DEP. CHIEF MELVIN MAXWELL, LAKE CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Right. Lake County Sheriff's Dertment.

HARRIS: Lake County Sheriff's Department. Can you give us any more information about what's going on here?

MAXWELL: Well, there's no new update. I have contacted my people down there and they are just still trying to talk to this character. We have no new updates so far. There's been no response on -- from his part to cooperate with us.

HARRIS: Well, chief, we just saw moments ago, two people being walked out of there. It's obvious that some kind of communication is actually under way. We're looking now at a replay of the scene here on the air. We're looking at what appears to be a s.w.a.t. team member or an FBI person escorting these two ladies out of the bank.

MAXWELL: OK, I know that they were attempting to get two people out. But I am 15 miles away. When I called down there a few minutes ago, there was no update for me. So that could be possible, but I do know by our radio transmission here that they were attempting to take two hostages out.

HARRIS: OK. Well, we are happy to update you, chief.


We happened to see it here happen live right here on the air here.

MAXWELL: Well, I am sorry I couldn't be more up to date on that. But I do know we were attempting to get two people out. But like I said, I am 15 miles away, so I am not on the scene. And I can only rely on transmission back and forth.

HARRIS: Now the information that you did get, can you tell us -- do you know for sure exactly what happened here and what time it all got started?

MAXWELL: It started a little bit after 9:00, maybe about 9:10. A woman who was attempting to go into the bank and she saw this one subject with a gun pointed at the people inside the bank. She called 911. Lowell PD and the Lake County Sheriff's department responded. That's when the subject took 10 to 20 hostages inside the bank.

HARRIS: So, if it had not been for this one person who was coming to do business with the bank, it would have been a long time before anyone had found out about this?

MAXWELL: That's correct.

HARRIS: How many officers do you have there on the scene?

MAXWELL: At this time, I couldn't possibly tell you, because it's a mixture of Lowell and Lake County, and probably it's possible the state police could be there too, because they have a district -- they have a post right there in Lowell.

HARRIS: Uh-huh. We are seeing a number of different kinds of police vehicle, or sheriff's vehicles there. The state police are the ones in the dark-colored vehicle, that's probably what we're looking at right there.

MAXWELL: Right. That's quite possible. They're only a matter of minutes from downtown Lowell.

HARRIS: Can you give us an idea of the size of this town, this are that we are looking out? Is this a large area, a suburb of Chicago or what?

MAXWELL: Well, Lowell is approximately 40, between 40 and 45 miles east of chicago. It's right off of interstate 65. It's a nice sized community, maybe no more than 25,000 people. It's a nice community as a whole.

HARRIS: Now, we heard moments ago, we were listening to an official with the school system saying that they were going -- the schools is under lockdown. That's already happened. But they were saying that they would be advising parents to come in and pick up their kindergartners, or young kids would be released from school within the hour. So, to come inside.

Do you know whether or not the police will be escorting these students from there?

MAXWELL: More than likely, yes. For the safety of all concerned, we would set up some sort of an escort service just to make sure.

The school is not directly in front of the bank or anything like that. So there shouldn't be any problems.

HARRIS: All right. We are watching now, just a lot of standing around. Deputy Chief Melvin Maxwell, we thank you very much for your joining us and providing us with the information that you have. We appreciate that. And we'll let you get back to work now, and we'll dip back into our affiliate coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we will show you what is exactly out here by way of armed personnel, and it is a very impressive show armed force out here.

We have one person who is held up insde the bank with a shotgun, 10 to 20 people inside of the bank, and we have a substantial police presence, as you have been hearing the callers, calling in from different businesses around the vicinity here that are on lockdown.

And once again, you can see down in the lower portion of your screen, there is a yellow police tape, that is the demarcation of the secure zone to keep all unnecessary personnel back and away.

Also, the police are doing patrol out in that area to make sure that their tactical elements are not compromised. You can see from the skid on Chopper 2, we are actually going away from the scene right now, trying to give you an overview of this.

MCEDWARDS: All right. We are going to interrupt our coverage here just for just a moment.



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