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Gunman Releases Some Hostages

Aired September 4, 2001 - 13:05   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: You've been seeing live coverage here at CNN, it's happening in the small town of Lowell, Indiana. You can see where it's located there, about 45 miles south of Chicago. It's a tense morning for people in this area right here, especially for the folks inside this Centier Bank branch who are being held hostage by one gunman.

The building is surrounded by the FBI and police. Schools are in lockdown, there's a high school across the street a few hundred yard away, business have been evacuated, and of course the loved ones of the folks being held hostage are nearby as well, hoping that this ends peacefully and that their loved ones are back with them soon.

Let's tell what you has transpired since this hostage situation broke out at 9:00 this morning. The gunman released a couple of hostages, you can see them there walk away with the SWAT team, with their shield, walking backwards from the bank, making sure that they get out safely.

Then, a little while later, the SWAT team came close to the bank again, here they're. And as you can see, one official is holding some sort of bag. That bag was dropped there right at -- outside the front door of this bank, and someone came out and retrieved it and took it in. That's another time that the SWAT team came very close to this bank branch with the gunman inside.

There have been no reports of any injuries of anyone being hurt right now. So far we just have an alleged bank robbery that has gone bad, and people now being held inside. You will see them back away here in a moment, that bag is left for someone to pick up.

Then, a short while after this happened, after that bag was taken, another hostage was released. Here they come, over the fence there, it looks like a woman was released from the bank.

There have been reports from police that there were nine people taken hostage, but there were also unconfirmed reports that as many as 20 people were taken hostage. So we're just not sure how many people are being held in the bank right now. We are going to continue to monitor the story. We can to that on many fronts. One of them is to check in with our affiliate out of Chicago which is on the scene, that's WBBM, and we'll listen in to their coverage for a moment now.

MACLENNAN: So everything at this point is going the way it should.


MACLENNAN: You will make a decision at 2:00, in about two hours, as to whether or not the dismissal time will be something other than it usually is.

AYALA: That's correct.

MACLENNAN: And then we have just put your web site address on the screen for our viewers, and we'll keep putting that up periodically so that parents who need information about their high school students can get the latest information about what's going on there.

AYALA: Thank you, so much.

MACLENNAN: There it is. Thank you sir, for keeping us posted.

AYALA: Very good.

MACLENNAN: There's the web site address over a live picture of Lowell High School. About a 1,050 students in the school, they are having lunch right now. And they're having lunch not in the cafeteria, which has windows, but in an inner part of the school, in the gym, which has no windows. And we asked the school superintendent whether it was anything out of ordinary, and he said no, it's actually pretty calm, and the kids just were wanting to know what the latest was.

AYALA: I thought the interesting thing about what he said is that this has been practiced many times. And that is so important in these types of situations that people are aware these situations can happen, and they practiced it, and everyone seems to be calm and everything seems to be going very well as far as the schools are concerned.

MACLENNAN: Well, and also that it's a very different situation when you are dealing with elementary kids and with high school kids, and that the parents came to get their kids, you know, the ones who do only half days, and are told never to come to a school in large groups when there is an emergency situation, to be calm.

And the younger kids were told that this was a drill. And you know, remember those drills in school, when we were in school, and they were always a pain in the neck to us students, but in this day and age they can be life-savers. So today, things -- Lowell was ready, and they went into their emergency plan as they have practiced and as the community drafted back in 1998.

So we are where we are at this point. Five hostages safely let go from the scene, although the hostage situation continues in the bank in Lowell.

Let's get back up to Kris Habermehl in Chopper 2. KRIS HABERMEHL, CHOPPER 2: Linka, we're up over 5,000 feet. A no-fly zone has been put into place by the Lake County Sheriff's police and the FAA. A five mile ring up to 5 thousand feet in order to make things quiet and safe for everybody down below.

As you are well aware, helicopters -- and Dorothy can attest to this, helicopters, especially when they're close by make quite a lot of noise, and tactical communications many times are being conducted in merely a whisper in order to keep radio silence and the radios secure.

What you're looking at is one of the forward command posts. As you mentioned, a Pizza Hut restaurant adjacent to the bank has been used for this basically since the beginning of this just around 9:00 this morning. The bank is out of sight, off to the right. We're cooperating with the authorities, not showing a live picture of the bank itself. you can see in the upper left-hand corner of your screen in the parking lot of the strip mall, which is under lockdown, just like the high school, the employees are inside, not allowed to go out right now, unless they are escorted by police and only if there's an emergency.

That is the helicopter from the Lake County Sheriff's Police, that has been providing high cover for this incident since shortly it began this morning. The pilot in there getting a little bit fatigued, down after about three hours. The Lake County Sheriff's Police now on the ground and the Lake County -- or actually, the Indiana State Police helicopter has taken over some scene security. In other words, just making sure that there's nobody wandering into a possible line of fire that the police on the ground are not seeing.

On the bigger picture here, we'll pull the camera back and as you can see the blue building, the building with the blue roof off on the right side of screen there, that is the bank. The red building, the familiar Pizza Hut roof, that is where they have gathered some individuals there and possibly the negotiating team. The high school, down in the lower left-hand corner, the round -- the circular building there, and of course the small business area on what is the eastern edge of the Lowell business district here out on State Road 2, which is also known as Commercial Avenue. And that has been shut down from end to end.

The police have done just a tremendous job closing off this area, making sure that no unnecessary personnel are wandering in here. And as you can see they have set up a perimeter and are directing traffic, not only the Lake County Sheriff's Police, but also Lowell and the Indiana State Police all working together hand in hand to make sure that this comes off peacefully and safely for everybody involved.

So we are watching from a distance and it's going down as a textbook operation so far.

MACLENNAN: Chris, this no-fly zone that has just been imposed, reads -- what do we read into that?

HABERMEHL: Basically we read into that security, security for everyone down below. The fact that there are news media helicopters out here, us among the crowd, and the fact they want to make sure that their aircraft can operate with impunity down below. They can fly wherever they want to at whatever altitude. They know they've got a secure altitude between 5 thousand feet above ground level and the deck and a five-mile-wide radius, depending what they need to bring in here.

Now, they have two helicopters that have been circulating around the area a little while. They've been spelling each other, taking a look, making sure that, I mentioned before, nobody comes wandering through the fields here trying to get a -- angling for a better look; somebody who may have heard about this on the news coverage trying to come in and take a look for themselves, see if they can get a good look there. That's why the helicopters are up, just to make sure that nobody breaches the security here.

What I read into that is the fact that it's standard operating procedure. It takes a while, but all of the incidents such as this where you have a barricade situation, a hostage situation, eventually a no-fly zone will be put into place, again, in order to make things kind of quiet on the ground and make sure their aircraft have a clear zone to operate.

MACLENNAN: It doesn't suggest that there might be something imminent?

HABERMEHL: Not really, Linda.

I've seen both here in the Chicago area in northwest Indiana, where we are, and basically nationwide, taking a look at incidents such as this that we're over right now, that's standard operating procedure the nation over, and also in Europe too, in order to keep a clear zone for the emergency rescue personnel and the emergency negotiating team to work it.

Plus it is somewhat distracting to have helicopter noise overhead. And with the noise coming down onto the ground there, if you're whispering into a tactical radio, a microphone, a lot of those are pretty much what we call high gain microphone, they pick up a lot of background noise, you want to make sure that if you're talking one unit to another that you can hear exactly -- word and verse exactly what's going on, because that could mean life and death for somebody's who's operating down in the field.

And then that is what these tactical officers have been trained to do, they've been trained to talk in code, they've been trained to work together using hand signals, and the last thing you need to be is distracted.

MACLENNAN: Absolutely.

HABERMEHL: So we don't read anything ominous into the fact that there's been a no-fly zone, merely us working together with the FAA and us working together with the authorities to make sure that we can cover it from a safe distance, we can show the viewer at home what is going on, and we can portray the information in realtime without actually compromising what is going on at ground level there. So it works for all involved.

MACLENNAN: All right, Chris Habermehl, great job so far. Thank you so much.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And that's our affiliate WBBM doing a fine job of helping us with the latest news, that helicopters are being told to pull back a little bit from the scene so they don't conflict with negotiations going on.

And our affiliate reporting that five hostages have been released now by the gunman.

We'll continue to follow the story after this quick break.


WATERS: Again, we have our eyes on a small town in northwest Indiana, Lowell, Indiana, home to about 6 thousand people, where all the cameras are focused today on a bank branch, inside a gunman holding hostages, an undetermined number of hostages. We're hearing that five hostages have been released, that's our affiliate WBBM reporting that just moment ago. And you heard them. We're going to get back to them in a moment.

But we're pulling together all elements of the story to make it all hang together. And just a few minutes ago police on the scene spoke with reporters. Let's hear about that.


QUESTION: What's going on inside, Mike?

CHIEF MIKE ARREDONDO, LAKE CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: After this morning, about 8:30 this morning, we got a call that there was a male suspect -- subject inside the bank. As we have confirmed there is a male subject in the bank. We have some hostages in the bank. As of this minute right now so far we have been able to have three of the hostages released by us trading off things, and we're in negotiation with the subject.

QUESTION: Sir, you reached him by phone and what has he told you?

ARREDONDO: We've just had some communication. I won't reveal anything else because there is some TV inside.

QUESTION: So he's apparently watching, or what?

ARREDONDO: There's a possibility, and that's what we're trying to tell everybody else to give us a little bit of leeway here.

QUESTION: Do you have a description of the (OFF-MIKE)?

ARREDONDO: We just know we have a male, white subject, OK.

QUESTION: How many hostages are (OFF-MIKE)? ARREDONDO: That we won't release at this point. We have three of them out right now. OK.

QUESTION: What was it that he was offered that enticed...

ARREDONDO: We released -- we gave him some food and some smoking thing.

QUESTION: Has anyone been hurt?

ARREDONDO: No. No one is hurt at this time that we're aware of.

QUESTION: Mike, what does he say he wants?

ARREDONDO: That's what we're negotiating with him right now. And we will be back because they just called me back in here. We'll be back here within the hour to give you some more information.

QUESTION: Sir, can you just repeat what happened at 8:30 this morning?

ARREDONDO: About 8:30 this morning is when we first got the call.

QUESTION: Were any shots fired?

ARREDONDO: Not that we are aware -- not since we've been here.

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of weapon he has?

ARREDONDO: No. Not at this time. We haven't identified everything. We are talking to people and trying to get some more information from him and the hostages.

QUESTION: How did it come to your attention what went wrong that made him to take hostages?

ARREDONDO: That we won't know until we get the rest of them out. But by talking to him, it seems that there is hesitation there and that is when the police officers rolled up on them. And at that point I believe that's why he decided not to come out.

QUESTION: No shots have been fired?

ARREDONDO: Not at this time.

QUESTION: No injuries that you are aware of?

ARREDONDO: Not that we are aware of.

QUESTION: We heard he is a 20-year-old kid from a nearby town Lake Dillard (ph) . Can you confirm that?

ARREDONDO: I won't confirm that because (UNINTELLIGIBLE). QUESTION: How many people in the bank?

ARREDONDO: That we won't release right now because of him -- I don't want to release that right now.

QUESTION: But he is willingly talking to you?

ARREDONDO: He is talking to us right now and we are trying to get some negotiations done with him, OK?

WATERS: Police are talking with the suspect inside the bank. They are attempting to get information just like us. But some of it they are giving out. We have a white male suspect inside, in his 20s. Nobody has been hurt. No shots have been fired. Negotiations are continuing, and hostages have been released.

You heard the police officer there saying three hostages have been released. That conflicts with an earlier report from WBBM saying five hostages have been released. All we know is there is an undetermined number of hostages inside. Some have been released and that bag that Natalie Allen was talking about earlier that was taken in by S.W.A.T. members and laid at the steps of the bank contain food and smoking materials.

We also heard the police officer say the man inside is possibly watching all of this on television, and here is what he's watching, rather restricted television pictures since there's been a request by police not to show live pictures of the bank. Helicopters from the news media have been asked to back off so that authorities using their own choppers inside this area, which now has been declared a no-fly zone can operate more effectively and the tactical use of communications down below can be used to their greatest effect -- all understandable.

We're going to rejoin WBBM television closer to the scene. They may have some information that we're not getting. Let's listen and see what that might be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working in the bank was able to escape, apparently, and ran next door to I believe what was some type of store or possibly a restaurant. These details, again, very sketchy and also from witnesses, ran next door and screamed to call 911 because an armed robbery was in progress at the bank.

And according to witnesses, the police were then on scene within 30 seconds. And we have talked to school officials. The schools were put on lockdown immediately. However, all the students are safe at the schools. There is modified lockdown now under way at the Lowell High School, which is about 500 yards away. And they say that the modified lockdown means the students are able to go from class to class as usual and to lunch and everything. They are just not allowed outside the building. That is all we really have from here in Hammond. We are probably having just as much difficulty as you in getting some confirmed reports from authorities.

MACLENNAN: All right, Amy. Thanks so much from WJLB and the news room there. They have reporters on the scene there in the news room, I believe, is in Hammond. They have reporters on the scene as we do over in Lowell, Indiana. And what you're looking at right now are pictures from earlier this morning that were sent to us by Chopper 2 and Kris Habermehl who had been over the scene for most of the morning and -- there we have a live -- is this a live picture from on the ground?

AYALA: Live ground picture, yes. I see a chopper, I believe that's the parking lot. If you remember the shots from Chopper 2 that we were looking at, you could see a chopper at the center of a parking lot. It appears that might be one of the choppers?

MACLENNAN: Is that the back of the bank there? I see a little bit of what looks like a blue roof. That might be the back of the bank. Again, the reporters, the camera people are all being kept quite a ways back from the scene of this ongoing hostage situation.

We're not certain of the numbers but we think that maybe four people are still being held hostage inside the bank by an armed gunman, a man who reportedly went into the bank at 8:45 with a sawed- off shotgun and wanted to rob the bank. Something happened. It did not go as he had planned and he ended up taking hostages, both customers and people who worked inside the bank. This all went down in the really relatively small rural community of Lowell, Indiana, about 43 miles south and east of Chicago this morning -- Dorothy, are you -- what is that sound we're hearing?

AYALA: Not sure what is that is, it's...

MACLENNAN: There is nobody -- all right, all right -- I think I can hear Dorothy Tucker in the background. Dorothy has been doing great work gathering up people, many of them family members of the people who are inside. One has a sister who is the assistant manager who is being held hostage in there. Another had a sister who works in there, and just trying to piece together whatever information we can, and these stories, as we've been saying, patience is a virtue, and the longer these play out, often that means the more likely it is that these end peacefully.

As we've seen over the last few hours, first of all there were three hostages released, a child and two adults and then two hostages released about an hour ago. Again these are pictures from earlier this morning. That's about the most amount of activity that you ever -- we've ever seen all morning. There's a few cars driving around.

There have been several Indiana State Police helicopters taking off and landing. But by and large it has been very calm. Very little activity, everybody staying in place. As we've said, the businesses around there were either evacuated or locked down. The school across the street on lock down, now on modified lockdown.

And so the scene has not changed very much except for the fortunate developments of five hostages being released.

AYALA: And as these aerial photos point out, this is a rural area, a small community about 7,000 to 7,500 people in this community. And interestingly enough, they have all reacted very well to this crisis because they all had a hand in creating the crisis plan for these types of situations and that has really helped or it appears to have really helped in all situations because there is a school about 300 yards away. You can see it there, the circular building. A large building actually, it looks like a nice high school there.

MACLENNAN: Futuristic design.

AYALA: Very futuristic design, almost Pentagon-like. There are about a thousand students in school as we speak. I believe they are still probably on their lunch hour, as we spoke a little earlier to the superintendent of schools, he said they were in their lunch hour, they were in a gymnasium that has no windows. Again, part of their crisis plan, because if there are no windows, again, that reduces the risk that if indeed shots are taken for any reason at all they're safe under those circumstances.

Local elementary schools a little further out have also been put on lockdown. However, parents have been able to go and get their children if they have been allowed to leave a little early. All in all, the situation has been stabilized as we continue to wait for some sort of break in the situation.

WATERS: And there you have it, waiting for a break. It's gone on since 8:30 a.m. local time. So if you are going by the length of time it's taken to resolve the situation, police are in no hurry. The folks in Lowell, as you heard WBBM report, number about 7,000 to 7,500 people, some of whom are saying today are saying they have never seen so many cops in their life.

But the most important person in the matter now seems to be the man who is on the telephone with the man holding hostages in the bank, the man with the gun, and have hostages released. We don't know how many more may be in danger. That is what you are watching closely. We'll continue to follow the story. We will take a break and continue on when we get back.



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