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Hijacked Mail Truck Stopped at Intersection

Aired January 31, 2003 - 13:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are joined now on the telephone now by our security analyst, Mike Brooks. Mike, I assume you have been working the phones on this one?
MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I have, Leon, and just seeing that that now has stopped. You see the Miami SWAT team, the Sheriff's Office has oars (ph), Miami has gotten around the vehicle now, and they will attempt to negotiate with this person inside of the mail truck, either from one of the cars, or they'll attempt to get the person a phone.

Many times, during situations like this, the person will not negotiate. So -- but time is on their side. They haven't attempted to make a move on the mail truck during the chase, and they'll go ahead and let time play it out.

HARRIS: That's apparently what they have been doing, because they were following well behind this vehicle. They weren't even trying to get close to it. They stayed quite a long distance away from it -- excuse me -- and even as you see here at this intersection, they have still not tried to rush, and even though they do have their protective armor out, and they have actually gotten close enough to talk, but not close enough to actually make a rush on the vehicle.

BROOKS: Exactly, and you see officers there with their bullet resistant shields. Standing behind them, most likely in one of those two groups you saw either side behind the vehicle, you also will have a negotiator. There you have the Miami-Dade Police Department SRT, the Special Response Team armored vehicle that has now gotten in front of the truck to make sure it doesn't go mobile again.

These are all the things that these people are trained to do, and they are a very, very professional team there in Miami-Dade.

HARRIS: And Mike, with the idea and with the fact that there is a hostage on board this vehicle, this definitely does heighten the risks here. Is the plan basically, in a situation like this, to typically just wait it out and, if so, for how long, would you imagine?

BROOKS: Well, they also -- they're waiting it out, but they're also -- I'm sure now they're trying to get some sniper observer teams into place to see inside of that vehicle, to see exactly what the person is doing while they're attempting to try to negotiate with the person who's holding that driver of that vehicle hostage. If they -- if things, during the negotiations start to, you know, do a little bit better or things start to get a little worse, they'll react appropriately.

HARRIS: Tough to try to get an angle on a person in a vehicle like this, because there aren't very many windows.

BROOKS: No, exactly, and exactly what drove this person, within the last 24, 48 hours to this type of situation. Most likely, there is something that made that person come to this, made that person grab a hostage. There are a lot of different scenarios that we could talk about, but it would be only speculation at this time.

HARRIS: Exactly. Exactly. And we don't want to get into that.

BROOKS: Absolutely not.

HARRIS: For those who are just joining us now as we have crossed the top of the hour, here's what you're looking at -- you're looking at a mail truck, a mail delivery vehicle that was being driven up until moments ago by a female mail carrier, but it is now at a stop at an intersection after being driven aimlessly around the northwest Miami-Dade area for approximately an hour and a half to two hours or so. This driver doing this at the point of a gun. We understand that a gunman did board this vehicle, some shots were fired from that vehicle at some point early in this -- during this incident, and police have since been following this vehicle as it has driven its way around northwest Miami.

Now, as we understand it, there is still inside this vehicle the female mail carrier and a male, who is alleged to be holding a gun. We did not get an eyewitness account on the gun. We do know some shots have been fired, according to local reports. I also heard a report from a reporter who was on the road trying to get to a vantage point where they could actually see what was happening, and the truck actually drove right past this reporter, and the reporter said that she did get a look inside, got to see that there was a man inside wearing a woolen cap and a jacket and the driver was a female who looked terrified, according to that reporter. And this was just about maybe a half an hour or so ago.

At this particular point, it looks as though they're in a situation where they're going to be waiting this one out. This has been going on for some -- almost two hours now. We don't know whether or not any kind of communication has been established with the person inside the truck. If our Mike Brooks is still with us, let me ask Mike -- how would you establish communications in a case like this, Mike?

BROOKS: Well, once you get -- the vehicle is stopped, either through a bull horn, a public address system on one of the vehicles, or if they are close enough, and I would prefer this, and I was a negotiator for 22 years, I would prefer to go just -- voice to voice with the person from behind protection.

That makes it more personal. But they will try one of these different ways to make contact with this person. You can also -- there are other ways in the past that they could have a robot take a phone up to the vehicle. You know, there's a lot of different ways. But they will initially try to establish communication with the person inside of the truck to find out what -- what is actually going on, make sure the person who is -- they took hostage is OK, and make sure that person is OK, and attempt to establish some kind of report with that person inside of the truck.

HARRIS: Well, Mike, if you were a negotiator, in the past, what -- what approach would you use in a situation like this, when you're talking with a person who is -- obviously had gotten the message that they're not going to get away. You can see that they are totally surrounded, there's no way they're going to get out of there, and they may have nothing to lose.

BROOKS: That's exactly right, but you still want to try to establish some report. Now, this chase has been going on for about an hour, hour and a half. That still -- that really heightens the -- everything in the situation, but once you get the vehicle stopped, try to bring the situation under control, and you try to bring the emotions of that person down a little bit.

You don't want to get it too low, the emotions of the person too low, you don't want to get the emotions too high. You want to keep them somewhere right in the middle, where you can still reason with this person. You want to try emotional labeling, trying to find out exactly what is going on with this person, what brought them to this particular situation. Was it a domestic situation, was it a crime gone bad?

We want to try to exactly establish what's going on with this person, and then, from there, you can start to work with the person and, No. 1, try to get him -- or her, whoever the hostage-taker is -- it sounds like it's a male, what we are hearing right now, try to get them to release the hostage.

HARRIS: Now, those of you who may be familiar with the Miami area, according to wire reports, this intersection is at 183rd Street and 27th Avenue. That is 183rd Street and 27th Avenue in northwest Miami-Dade. There are some 15 or 20 police vehicles there in this intersection, and at least that many vehicles were seen earlier following this mail truck for at least an hour to an hour and a half, as it drove around a number of streets in that area. Now, if you're concerned about any of the schools and any children that may be inside any of those schools, the police have this advice for you.

No. 1, if you happen to be in that area, stay indoors yourself. Do not go outside to go see what's going on. A number of pedestrians were outside when this truck was driving by, and the truck actually stopped and whoever was inside actually conversed with people who were on the street who may have had no idea exactly what was going on, or how dangerous the situation was.

Police are urging anyone -- any people, any civilians who happen to be in that area to stay away and stay indoors.

Secondly, they're also saying the schools in the area have been locked down for the safety of those who are in that school. Do not -- do not try to go to the school to pick up your child or take your child away. The children are just fine where they are. There is no concern, especially since they do now have the situation confined to this one intersection.

Let's check in now with our John Zarrella. He is our Miami bureau chief -- and John, I take it you have been able to listen to more of the reports down there locally. What have you been hearing?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Leon, quite frankly, it has been very, very sketchy at best. The police have not given out a whole lot of information, other than to say that the individual who has hijacked this mail truck, taken this mail truck, is armed and dangerous. We do believe, as you have reported, that shots may have been fired at one time.

The chase started -- we first got wind of it about 11:30, so a good hour and a half ago when we first started to monitor this chase, and it never was a high-speed chase. It was always a slow-speed chase, with the police cars primarily staying behind the mail vehicle, the truck.

Once in a while passing to get ahead so that they could block off intersections ahead. We saw the mail truck, in fact, cut across intersections, make U-turns, but never really do anything that appeared to be -- that would endanger other motorists or people.

And as you mentioned, actually stopped and held short conversations with people on the side of the road periodically. And now, finally, the police did change their tactics within the last 10 to 15 minutes, and have stopped the vehicle at this intersection in northwest Miami-Dade, not too far from the Dade-Broward County line, up in that area.

So we are, of course -- but they are staying back, because, again, there is a hostage apparently involved, a woman mail carrier. There were shots much earlier on from the local affiliate helicopters that actually showed what appeared to be a very calm, apparently female mail carrier driving the vehicle. And it was amazing to see how calm she apparently was throughout all of this ordeal, and within the last few minutes, some of those aerial pictures, Leon, showed the vehicle stopped and what appeared to be the boxes and containers filled with mail being stacked up, almost as a barricade.

That's where we are right now, Leon. And as all of our viewers can see there from that picture, totally surrounded vehicle with the police Miami, and metro Dade squad there standing by, waiting to -- just wait this person out or try to get negotiators in there -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, John, as I heard from the Associated Press wires, this vehicle is not going anywhere, because the police stopped it by using spikes in the road. So the tires have been blown up, and that's one reason why you see it's leaning the way it is. So it's clear this vehicle is not going to go anywhere.

ZARRELLA: Right, they finally decided to bring the vehicle to a stop. Apparently they came to a realization that this vehicle wasn't going to stop any other way until it ran out of gas, and I guess they didn't want to wait all day for that eventuality, so yes, they brought it to a standstill here in this intersection, and 27th Avenue now, for people who do know and don't know South Florida is a major artery in Miami. It's a major thoroughfare during rush hour, to get people from highway to the next, moving people, lots of traffic. So with this artery shut down, 27th avenue, certainly we can probably expect a lot of rerouting of traffic, depending, of course, on how long this standoff between the SWAT team and the suspect go on -- Leon.

HARRIS: That will snarl things up for quite some time.

And again, folks, we're getting reports that several dozen schools in that area have been closed, have been locked down for the protection of the children inside. So do not worry and do not go out there and look for your child.

Now, Mike Brooks, if you're still with us, I'm also seeing on the wires that a helicopter that was hovering over the scene was able to get a look inside the vehicle and saw a number of guns inside.

BROOKS: Well, that's probably what the person does have. That won't change negotiations at all. The Miami-Dade police department here, they have an extremely professional hostage negotiation unit, as well as a tactical element that will work together to try to bring this to a conclusion.

And you know, police there, they want this to end as much as everyone else who's watching right now. They want it to end, but they want to bring it to a successful conclusion, with bringing everyone out unharmed. But right now, they're again, trying again to establish negotiations, if they haven't already, with someone inside the truck.

It's very difficult, Leon, let me point out, Leon, it's very difficult in this kind of situation, though, to establish communications because of the distance now.

We're talking about a short distance here, but for law enforcement officers to use a bullhorn or a public address system and for that person to shout back, that makes it a little more difficult, but these people, the folks with Miami-Dade Police Department will attempt to do this.

HARRIS: Let me ask you what this makes you think about, Mike. If you talk about communications here, and I'm reading through more wire reports, and, John Zarrella, you can confirm the same thing that we saw earlier about this truck when it stopped, and bystanders would be there on the road, they would talk to -- whoever was inside the truck would talk to whoever was there on the side of the road, and apparently, those bystanders were going back to the police cars that were following this truck, and delivering them messages from whoever was inside the vehicle.

Now, Mike, does that tell you anything?

BROOKS: Well, it says that the person inside is probably, most likely reaching out for some kind of help and wants to communicate with someone, or they wouldn't have stopped. If they were bound and determined for whatever reason, because of a crime gone bad or a domestic situation and they were focusing their entire attention on that driver, then they probably wouldn't have reached out to the people outside and talked to them.

And the other thing to consider, is this person of altered mental status? You know, is there something else going on inside that person's head. Needless to say, there is. Negotiators are good at trying to find out exactly -- they're extremely professional in trying to find out exactly what's going on with that person.

And most of the time, time is on their side, and they'll just go ahead and play this out and talk to this person and find out exactly what's going on and bring this to a peaceful conclusion.


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