SUWANEE, Ga. — A gaping hole Thursday exposed wooden beams and insulation on one side of a suburban Atlanta house where a financially strapped gunman held four firefighters hostage for hours, demanding that his utilities be restored, before being shot dead by a SWAT officer.
Lauren Brown, 55, was heavily armed with a half-dozen guns, police said. He told the firefighters that he had planned the hostage-taking for weeks and targeted them during Wednesday’s ordeal in suburban Atlanta so that he wouldn’t be shot, Gwinnett County Police said Thursday. All four were slightly injured but are fine.
Brown called 911 to lure the firefighters to the home by saying he had a medical emergency, said Police Chief Charles Walters. When five firefighters arrived at 3:48, believing it was a routine call, he was lying in bed and appeared to be suffering from a medical condition that left him motionless. But when they approached the bed to help him, he pulled out a handgun, Walters said.
He let one go to move the vehicles from the front of his house but kept the other four.
It began a 31/2-hour standoff during which Brown demanded that his power, cable and other utilities cut off because of non-payment be restored. At about 7:30, police were convinced that even if they met Brown’s demands, he had no intention of releasing his hostages, Walters said.
A SWAT officer posing as someone delivering food that Brown had demanded approached the house in Suwannee, about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta.
Other SWAT members set off a stun blast to distract Brown and stormed the house. Brown opened fire on the first officer as he entered the bedroom. The man was hit in the left arm by one of the shots, but managed to return fire, killing Brown. Before Brown fired, police told him to drop his weapon, Walters said.
Debris lay all over the yard Thursday of the home that public records indicate is in foreclosure and has been bank-owned since mid-November. Another brick house with tan siding next door appeared to have suffered even more damage. A large area of the side was missing, again with wooden beams and insulation exposed.
Jasmin Gutierez, 12, was at home with her family in that house. They huddled in the master bedroom at the other end of the house.
“We started, like, at least trying to get in a group hug to save ourselves because we got scared,” she said. “I mean there was a lot of people, like the SWAT teams and the police.”
After a while, they heard a loud bang and then they heard shooting and black smoke started to fill their home and police knocked on the door to make sure they were all right.
After the hostage-taking was reported, dozens of police and rescue vehicles surrounded the home and a negotiator was keeping in touch with the gunman, police said. The situation remained tense until the blast rocked the neighborhood of mostly two-story homes and well-kept lawns. Residents unable to get into their neighborhood because of the police cordon flinched and recoiled when the enormous blast went off.
“The explosion you heard was used to distract the suspect, to get into the house and take care of business,” Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter said in a news conference minutes after the ordeal ended. He said the situation had gotten to the point where authorities believed the lives of the hostages were in “immediate danger.”
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance we did not want to end this way,” Ritter said. “But with the decisions this guy was making, this was his demise.”
Firefighters were able to use their radios to let the dispatch center know what was going on and that’s how negotiators were communicating with Brown the whole time, Walters said.
Fire officials did not believe there was any danger in responding to the initial call that seemed routine and dispatched the usual one engine and one ambulance to the house.
This was the second time in recent months that firefighters have been targeted.
On Dec. 24, a man in upstate New York set his house ablaze and shot and killed two firefighters as they arrived, then himself. Two other firefighters and a police officer were wounded.