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Hostage Situation in Indiana Continues

Aired September 4, 2001 - 11:54   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the other breaking story we've been covering extensively this morning, a bank hostage situation in Lowell, Indiana, about 40 miles southeast of Chicago. You're looking at a live picture from the scene. The bank hostage situation is actually happening in the building at very top of your screen there. The helicopter shot is almost behind the building now.

What's been happening since about 10:00 Eastern, about 10:10 Eastern this morning -- we're actually now looking at a live picture. This is another picture of what looks like some SWAT team members walking up to the bank. This time they have a bag with them. We saw this happened moments ago. They just dropped the bag. Now they are backing off.

Moments ago, we saw them walk up and take away with them two hostages. Now we see that they have walked up to the door, and they have dropped some kind a bag there at door of the bank. I suppose that we will have to sit back and watch to see who comes out to get it, or if someone does come out to get it. But this has going on now, as we said, for almost two hours.

Here we see the door open.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: Someone retrieving the bag, it looks like.

HARRIS: And rather calmly, we might add. And it looks like another hostage has been freed and has walked over to the SWAT team members, who are now backing her away. That's the third hostage we have seen released. We, right now, can't say for sure how many have been. We have been away for some time from this story. There may have been more in the meantime.

MCEDWARDS: We heard earlier, Leon, in your interview with the deputy chief that the officers had been and were still trying to make contact with that suspect who is in there with a sawed-off shotgun. So perhaps, you can suggest at this point that some communication has been taken place. A bag has been dropped off. A third hostage has been released.

HARRIS: It's tough to figure out how they have been communicating. At one point, we had someone who was listening to the discussions going over the police radio. We have not heard about that ion some time. Let's see if we can dip into the affiliate coverage.

REPORTER: ... was a bank robbery and not another type of situation?

Everything that we have learned so far points to the fact that this was a robbery that had been in progress, a robbery that had gone wrong, that it was from, the officers' standpoint here, that arrived at the scene, that you had persons that obviously was in the process of holding people at gunpoint. And considering the fact that it is a financial institution, considering the time of day -- very close to opening, if not at opening, when the main deposits would still be at the bank, when they would not have had a money pickup yet -- that it would have, of course, been something akin to a robbery...

REPORTER: Chris (ph), we're having some trouble with your signal at this point.

HARRIS: We're going to switch away and go back to the other picture that we have been watching this morning. This is the staging area facing the bank, to the left of it. This is a Pizza Hut restaurant that has been evacuated, and the authorities are using it as something of a staging area.

Here is what we have been hearing: There are up to maybe 20 hostages inside. That's the number that we saw before we saw those released. There now may be now between 10 and 20. We don't know for sure at this particular point. That number is made up of the employees and customers.

We spoke, a moment ago, with a deputy chief who told us that what happened was a woman had gone to the bank around 9:10 local time and had noticed, in the process of opening the door, that there was a man inside with a shotgun. She then called 911, and that's when all the police officers got there. And the man was note able to escape.

They then evacuated the restaurants and local businesses and put the schools in the area under lockdown. We say that because there is a school that is about maybe 300 yards away from this building, directly across the street.

The helicopter shot you're looking at right now is coming to you from above the campus of Lowell High School. No one's been in or out of the schools. We understand that no one's been hurt, and that's not a situation that is causing any concern right now.

There are FBI and local and state police right now on the scene. We should mention this is Centier Bank in south Lake County, Indiana, which is just east of Chicago. In case anyone is familiar with that area, that's exactly what we are talking about right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a 911 caller, someone who did see something happen -- a person a gun in the bank...

HARRIS: We still don't know right now the status of any negotiations with this person who is holding the people hostage. We understand he did have a sawed-off shotgun, and that, at one point, police were talking to him about releasing at least two people. We did see that happen. And since then, we have seen one more person come out.

And we would love to know what is going on with the bag that was dropped off at the front of the bank.

MCEDWARDS: That happened just a couple of moments ago, so we are going to stay with this and see what happens. But a bag was set by police in front, by the front door, a person came out, pulled that bag very carefully in and then another hostage was released.

Let's listen in to WBBM here for a moment.

REPORTER: And here's what we know so far: a single gunman reportedly is holding between 10 and 20 people hostage; some are bank employees, some are customers. And officials say that students at Lowell High School, down the street, about 300 yards from the bank, are safe. And the school is under what they call lockdown, with no one being allowed in or out of the school.

However, students at five other schools are in lockdown as well at this hour.

Lowell's school superintendent says that all are indeed safe.

On the scene of course is Chopper 2. Our own Chris Hobermill (ph) has been at the scene.

And, Chris, are you with us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am, Michael.

Here's a picture right now of some of the units which are involved in this standoff. They are up the street from the Centier Bank in the 900 block of the East Commercial Avenue in the Lowell, Indiana. It's in a little strip shopping center. The bank is freestanding in the parking lot of this strip mall here along state road two, which bisects the downtown area, the business area of Lowell, Indiana.

In order to maintain security we're going to give you the wide shot, the bank coming into view on the far right-hand corner of your screen, next to the red roof of the Pizza Hut restaurant there. In the foreground off to the this is Lowell High School. Now, as you mentioned, Lowell High School, the students are during -- are in the midst of their learning day right now, they are in class at the moment. They are on lockdown. They're being held inside the building, nobody is free to go or free to enter the school. The employees of the Lowell High School are manning all doors and all entrances to the school.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The doors and entrances are locked.

Yes, Linda?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me just tell you what is moving across the AP wires, it just moved about three minutes ago: According to AP, authorities have escorted at least two people from the bank, where a gunman is holding several hostage; the two were seen being escorted away shortly after four officers went up to the bank door. And the Deputy Lake County police chief, Melvin Maxwell, says authorities had negotiated with the gunman for the release of the two people. So presumably, this means that the authorities have made contact with the gunman inside the bank.

The FBI says, initial reports, that one armed man -- right, no word of any injuries. I'm just reading this as I'm seeing it come across the wires here. Nine people -- according to a Lowell police staffer, says nine people are still held hostage. Students are being kept inside as we have been telling you, inside the Lowell High School, which is right across the street.

So according to AP, this is the latest wire on the story now, authorities have escorted at least two people, two hostages, from inside the Centier Bank in downtown Lowell on Commercial Avenue in Lowell. The two were escorted away after four police officers walked up to the bank door and, according to the Deputy Lake County police chief, authorities had negotiated with the gunmen for the release of the two people. We don't know who they are, whether they were employees, whether they were customers, under what circumstance they were allowed by the gunman to leave. But according to a police source, there are still nine people being held hostage inside the bank over which Chopper 2, Chris Hobermill, is reporting to us live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Linda, that is certainly good news and that is an important break in this case; that indicates that they have established negotiations of some sort, to some degree, with the gunman inside, they have calmed down to the point where they're actually allowing themselves to release some of the people who are being held.

In coordination with the Lake County sheriff's police we are showing you a wide shot here. That operation took place while we were in the area. However, we have been requested not to show any live pictures of any movements up close to the bank building itself. So we are working to try and help out as much as possible and not hinder the investigation, not hinder the negotiations with the hostage-taker inside.

The robber entered the bank around 9:00 this morning. The bank is in the upper right-hand corner of your scene, it's the blue roof right there you see just above the trees. There are units that are spread out all up and down the street on all sides and in the back and side parking lots. They have taken up some forward positions.

And, as you mentioned, Linda, a short time ago, they were actually able to get some negotiating officers up to the door of the bank in order to escort four people away. So that is certainly good news.

We had heard between 10 and 20 people had been held hostage. We know that -- we're just starting to get hard numbers anyway -- that there may be still nine people inside the bank, plus the gunman. The gunman's said to be armed with a shotgun.

Evidently a robbery gone bad around 9:00 a.m. this morning, when the Lowell Indiana police and the Lake County sheriff's police responded to a 911 call. We're trying to get some independent information as to how exactly the police were notified about the incident. But the end result was the same. They have come to the bank, that person is barricaded inside, has people inside the bank, a mix of customers, employees, and has been doing so since 9:00 a.m. this morning.

We're going to go around to the one side of the bank here and show you some of the police cruisers, which are in position, also ambulances, which thankfully have not been needed. So far no shots have been fired, nobody has been hurt, either inside or outside, and that is exactly how the authorities want this to proceed.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And as we've said, AP news wire reporting that at least two people have been allowed to leave and have been escorted away from the bank in the last, I would say, maybe 10, 15 minutes at the most. They were being escorted away from the bank by authorities after four police officers were allowed to go up to the door of the Centier Bank on Commercial Avenue in Lowell. So that, as Chris says, is good news. There have been no shots fired so far, nobody injured. We're looking at a picture now, you can see the -- I think that's Lowell County Sheriff's Department -- or Lake County Sheriff's Department, I should say, a fairly sizable piece of equipment there, a big van.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a tactical van.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tactical van, right.

And Chris has been very careful to not go in too tightly on the bank building itself because of obviously not wanting to compromise what is going on.

From what we know now from AP, the authorities are in communication with this, the bank robber, alleged bank robber, the man who's holding hostages inside. And as from what we know so far, nine people, plus the gunman, are still inside this bank as we speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, certainly good news, that answers a couple questions that we had leading up to the report from AP, whether they actually made contact and how many people were in the bank. And now we know there were probably about 11 people, but there's currently nine remain, two were removed. And if I do the math it comes out about nine left and that makes 11 total. And then there's a gunman as well.

And again, we are precluded from showing you close pictures of the bank because there are tactical maneuvers taking place, because not only are the Lake County Police Department on the scene, but also state police and the FBI as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris, the building that has the long blue roof, is that the bank?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is the bank here, Linda. You can see that blue roof right there just adjacent to the familiar roof outline of the Pizza Hut restaurant, and it is literally several hundred yards away from the Lowell High School. Lowell High School is this large circular-shaped building down below here, you see Lowell High School in the foreground, all the school buses all lined up there. And you will notice a peculiar thing: nobody is moving, nobody is moving out of Lowell High School.

The students know what's going on. The teachers know what's going on. The staff is completely briefed as to what is happening across the street. They have seen everything, and have been in contact with the authorities, and that building is on lockdown right now. They have locked the doors. They have employees standing next to the doorway to make sure nobody comes in and nobody goes out. And that is the best to be expected in a tense situation like this, considering the proximity to the focal point of the standoff.

We're taking a look at Commercial Avenue, which is Route 2, west of Interstate 65. This is actually closer to Route 41 in Lowell, and you can see some of the forward positions. And these officers here have been out parked on Commercial Avenue since shortly after 9:00 a.m. this morning, when the entire incident began.

And a short while ago we got word by the news wire that four people have been released, so obviously negotiations are proceeding at this time.

We are keeping our distance, trying to help out the authorities as best we can by not showing any live pictures of what is going on in close proximity to the bank. We are illustrating where some of the perimeter security has been set up, but in order to preserve the tactical elements of this operation we will not go in close to the bank building at this time.

So far what we know is a single gunman has been barricaded inside the bank, the Centier Bank at 1940 East Commercial Avenue, since just around 9:00 a.m. this morning. Evidently a robbery gone wrong. A call to 911 tipped police to the fact that the robbery was in progress. They arrived at the bank and the standoff began.

Elements from the FBI, the Indiana State Police, hostage barricade teams, specially outfitted SWAT teams, special weapons and tactics units are on-site. Negotiators have now evidently made some headway with the person holding the people hostage inside this bank building.

The strip mall that you see off to the left of the bank and the businesses immediately adjacent to the bank have all either been: A, evacuated; or, B, placed on lockdown. Basically, lockdown is nothing more than order by the police department to stay inside, stay away from the windows and do not come outside the building.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as long as this person is holding these people hostages, other people will be on lockdown as well and unable to leave their building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Chris, this is latest AP wire that moved just a few minutes ago. It says another person has been escorted from the bank. Four armed officer behind large shields approached the front door of the bank and left a large bag, then two people came out of door, one of the walked to the officers (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the other person picked up the bag and went back inside the bank. And this is after two people earlier had left the bank under police escort. The details are getting a little bit confusing here. But...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's pretty clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like another -- now maybe three people altogether have been released by the gunman who is inside the Centier Bank here in Lowell, Indiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As with any situation that is this tense and this fluid, there is no way to tell how many people may have been inside that bank. You have not only a set number of employees, but a variable number of customers. This being the first business day after the Labor Day holiday, many people are conducting large transactions inside the bank, the bank may have on deposit a sizable amount cash and that could have figured into the suspect's mind-set as to why it took place on this particular day at this particular time.

It's been going on since 9:00 a.m. this morning, and it's been very tense considering that you have an armed suspect inside. We are not aware of any negotiations that have been going on, what the specifics are of those negotiations, or what demands may have been made to the police department in order to effect the release of any of the hostages.

Unlike an airliner, where you have a passenger list, you have...

HARRIS: Now, we're going to jump in right now because we want to clear you guys up, any folks who are listening in and perhaps any of you who are just tuning in on exactly what it we're watching and what we have been able to confirm here at CNN, because we've been watching this for at least the last 40 minutes or so.

What we're watching here is a bank robbery situation, a robbery that went bad in Lowell, Indiana, just east -- or southeast of Chicago, about 40 mile away. And what we saw this morning is -- well, we heard reports initially of there being some 10 to 20 people inside this bank along with the gunman, who's holding a shotgun on these people. We understand that this number represented both employees and customers.

A customer was actually coming to the bank at 9:10 local time, which is 10:10 Eastern Time, and actually saw the robbery in -- actually in -- actually occurring, and then called 911 to alert the police.

The police arrived there and that's when they locked down all the schools in the area and they evacuated the buildings and the businesses nearby.

Now, as -- you're looking at right now a rather long shot, pictures, away from the bank because authorities have asked the helicopters from the news organizations to back off so as to not tip off the gunman, if he's watching local television.

But when we did have a camera up close, let's show you what we saw happen moments ago. This is the release of two of the hostages. We saw this happen roughly about 20 minutes ago, 25 minutes ago. As we said, we can't tell what number of people are inside right now because we didn't know for sure at the beginning. But we did see these two released.

These SWAT team members walked up, in formation with the shield in front of them, up to the door of the bank, the door opened, these two women were escorted back by one of the troopers there, and you see they walked them back over to the Pizza Hut next door, which they have been using as a staging area.

About 10 minutes later, we did see another person released when the SWAT team members again, the tactical team members, went to the door of the bank, dropped off some sort of a bag, it was a white bag with something inside of it, we could not tell what it was. The doors then opened, one person came from outside -- inside the bank, picked up the bag and took it back inside. And then one other person came out of the bank and walked away with the tactical team member.

So we have actually seen here three people released from inside this bank.

MCEDWARDS: Yes, bottom line is three people released at this point. We heard the Chicago station's trying to sort waiver between whether it was two or three. We have seen three people come out of this bank, as Leon says. The total number in there we don't know, although the deputy chief told CNN just a short time ago that there were between 10 and 20 hostages inside.

Let's get back into our affiliate coverage. We're going to look right now at WLS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if they're doing it via cell phone or if they're the Pizza Hut using that as their communication center.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so since our angle has changed because we are complying with what the police have asked us to do, where we are look now is that pizza restaurant, and you see the mobile van there, that is part of their command center, and Paul (ph) is to the right of that.

And just a few minutes ago you saw the shot of Lowell High School. Once again, it looks very peaceful there, and it is because that school is in a lockdown situation. It is the closest of all of the six schools in that district. It's only -- very clearly you can see it. It's about 300 yards, it's just across the street from where the situation is taking place.

All of the students, once again, are inside, everyone is safe. They are going through normal school day schedule. This is about the eighth or ninth day of school, so they are able to continue their normal schedule.

All of the children have been informed, we are told, of -- by the school superintendent of what is going on across the street from them. So they know why they have to be kept safe there inside of their classrooms. There is no recess time. There are no phys-ed classes outside. And it will be matter of trying to determine later on in the afternoon whether the buses can follow their normal schedule and whether the after-school athletic activities can also follow their normal schedule; that's still a few hour away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure it's a little unnerving too for the parent, nonetheless. Imagine being a parent who's child's at one of these schools.

And you talked earlier about the morning kindergarten at Three Creeks Elementary being released soon from their regular schedule, and that they have been told -- the parents have been told that they can come to the front door and that it is a safe situation.

But in the meantime, these schools are on lockdown just to play it safe. And as Linda said, everyone is doing absolutely just fine in these schools. It's just a safety measure to make sure that no one takes any chances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For parents who feel...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're told that a number of people have just exited the rear of the bank, so we don't know for sure and no one's come over to tell us, but they appear to have been people who were in the bank. And through the camera we can see that at least one of the women had her hands over her eyes as if she was crying. I don't know how many, but that certainly would be a positive sign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That definitely is. You know, we were told a couple of hours ago, or an hour -- almost an hour and a half ago by some people that they thought there could be as many as 20 hostages inside. We are getting word now that that number is probably -- was half that, and since then, about, 45 minutes ago, two and then one more hostage released, and now as Paul is telling us, more people have come out of the bank from the back door. Once again, as we told you, the law enforcement has asked us to be careful with what we shoot from our choppers, and we are complying with that, so we have not been able to see...

HARRIS: Now, as we've been listening to our affiliate discussing whether or not they've seen people come out of the bank, we just saw another person coming out of the rear.

As you see there, the troopers, the tactical members, they're dressed in black and right in front of the Pizza Hut, they had just finished escorting yet another hostage from inside the bank.

MCEDWARDS: That's right.

As you mentioned earlier, Leon, it looked like this Pizza Hut area is being use as a kind of a staging area. When the other three hostages were released we saw them back along this area, sort of crossed in front of that Pizza Hut into the parking lot area around there, people running...

HARRIS: Right.

MCEDWARDS: ... out, even though they clearly had some police protection.

And we heard earlier too that the windows on the front of the bank were making it difficult for police to see in, not many of them, tinted glass, but that some communication efforts were underway -- clearly some communication has taken place because we also saw that bag come to the front door, a man come out and pull it in.

HARRIS: Now, we did not see, again -- folks, we're not in control at all of any of these camera shots, that's one reason why we're pretty much at the mercy of the folks in the choppers from our affiliates there to zoom in and out for us. But if we could get a shot of the back of the bank, as we heard the one helicopter reporter saying that he saw -- that heard a report that there were people being ushered out of the back of the bank, we never did see that, so we can't say for sure. And by the time we did hear him say we didn't see any activity outside of the Pizza Hut either. So it's very difficult to say right now how many people may be inside. We have been able to eyeball ourselves at least four who have walked outside of this bank- hostage situation.

MCEDWARDS: Right. And all of this happening, in case you're just joining us, in Lowell, Indiana, 40, 45 miles southeast of Chicago.

This all got underway 9:00 a.m. local time when a customer actually came to the front door of a bank, saw a person pointing what looked like a sawed-off shotgun inside, called 911, got police out there. It's been described as a bank robbery that went wrong, clearly something went wrong, and people that -- people were then taken hostage. Police say about 10 to 20 taken hostage. We're showing you tape here from earlier.

HARRIS: Want to be clear on that.

MCEDWARDS: This is the first two that we saw taken out.

HARRIS: This, yes. This is the first two that we saw taken out. Since then they've come out in ones.

MCEDWARDS: And as we described earlier, there they are running across that Pizza Hut parking lot to the area that police are clearly using as a staging area in the hopes of getting people out.

All of the businesses in the area, and six schools in the area are locked down, buildings have been evacuated.

HARRIS: And one of the schools, we should say, one of those schools, and the largest one of them, is Lowell High School, which is directly across the street from this bank. And the helicopters are hovering right now over the school, the schools have been locked down, the kids are all inside safe, and they will have to stay there for some time.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. They're safe. No suggestion that anyone's been injured, no suggesting any shots have been fired. We did talk to a local business person in the area, probably 40, 45 minutes ago who said that people were just staying inside the building.

Let's listen in again to our affiliate coverage here. We're looking at WBBM.

KAREN: I think so. My secretary is here with me, we're the only two that made it in so far. I did see some of the other people from the other businesses. And I would say on the whole, yes, we feel safe. We don't have fear right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, WBBM-REPORTER: You don't have any children in the high school there, do you Karen?

KAREN: No, I don't. I have children in the grammar school that's down around the corner for the Walgreen's. But I feel that they're OK there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and from everything we know, from the authorities, the children are all fine in the various schools.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the high school right across the street from the bank, as we've been saying, has been on lockdown since this started this morning just before 9:00. This has been going on 2 1/2 hours.

And from what we know, the latest that we know, two, possibly three of the hostages have been released by the gunman inside who went into this bank this morning, early this morning, and when the bank opened. And I guess that he was trying to rob the bank, something went wrong and a hostage situation developed. KAREN: That's what I understand. And I heard on the news, of course, the radio that's all we have here right now, that some were released. I couldn't vouch for that, other than seeing them leaving the restaurant on the corner. I can't see the front end of the bank.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karen, have police remained in constant contact with you? Are they keeping you updated on how the situation is going, or have they basically told you to stay where you, and they'll get back to you at some other time?

KAREN: No, the police have not come to tell us anything. When we see people opening the doors from the business to step out, they're just telling us to step back, We're basically hearing what's going on by listening to the room. Our customers, and clients, and family have been calling here at our place of business informing us what they are seeing on television and so forth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Karen, let me just interrupt here. I'm reading the latest wires we have now from the Associated Press.

Lake County, Indiana. Police say that the three people escorted from the bank in Lowell are two adults and a child. It never even occurred to me to think that there would be children in there. Of course, in they are in there with their mom or their dad, or their grandparents, they're going into the bank, and it didn't even occur to me that one of them might of been a child.

Thank goodness all three of those have been safely released. Again, three people escorted.

KAREN: Wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that is good news, isn't it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two adults and a child. Several people still being hostage. But, according to AP, it's still not clear how many. A Lowell police staffer said nine people were taken hostages. Again, thankfully no word of any injuries.

And from what we have heard so far and learned so far, the police are and have been in contact with the gunman who is inside this bank, this Centier Bank in Lowell.

KAREN: Wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karen, we've been referring to Lowell as a rural area, a farming community.

KAREN: Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us your description of what Lowell is like? KAREN: We're probably about -- well, from Hammond, which a lot of people are familiar with, we're probably about 20 miles south of there. We're very close to the Illinois border. The town itself has maybe a population of around 6,000, 6,500, surrounding rural communities where people live on acreage.

It's not so much a farming town as it used to be, but it is definitely rural, small-town atmosphere. Very friendly, very safe, a great place to live and raise your children, but yet close to the big city, so to speak. Just very friendly area to be in.

We do things early here in the morning, so it doesn't surprise me that there were a lot of people in the bank first thing in the morning. We don't expect this in Lowell, but it happens I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it sounds like your community was well prepared.

MCEDWARDS: All right, we're going to break in here for just a moment here at CNN Center. We're going to take a short break from our coverage. But, we will keep watching this during the break, and bring more to you when we come back.



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