Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters addresses the media during a press conference on Thursday afternoon. With Walters is Cpl. Jake Smith, public information officer, left, and Gwinnett Fire Chief Bill Myers.
Police and Fire Chiefs address the media about firefighters hostage situation
Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters, Cpl. Jake Smith, public information officer and Gwinnett Fire Chief Bill Myers addresses the media during a press conference on Thursday afternoon about the firefighters hostage situation.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Firefighters are trained for a lot of things.
They’re taught to save others’ lives in the direst of circumstances and to risk their own running into burning buildings. They learn to endure extreme conditions and be ready on a second’s notice.
Firefighters are not trained on what to do if taken hostage, but after Wednesday’s traumatic incident in Suwanee, you wouldn’t know it.
“The firefighters remained calm throughout this incident, and that made a very, very difficult situation a whole lot easier, without panic and without people just taking things into their own hands,” Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters said.
The five members of Gwinnett Fire Station No. 10 that responded to 2440 Walnut Grove Way on Wednesday afternoon, ultimately to be taken hostage for more than three hours by an armed Lauren Holman Brown, have not had their identities released to the public. Their bravery, though, was lauded in a Thursday press conference on the previous day’s events, which left one police officer shot and Brown, 55, dead.
“We’ve spoken with all five of them this morning,” Gwinnett County Fire Chief Bill Myers said, “and they’re doing remarkably well. And I think they’ll be fine.”
Gwinnett County fire personnel respond to an average of 180 calls per day. About 70 percent of those calls, Myers said, are some type of medical situation like the one presented by Brown, who was reportedly faking chest pains to lure them in.
Especially in broad daylight and with no way of seeing power had been cut off to the home, there was no way for Wednesday’s crew from Station No. 10 to distinguish this one from those they had covered hundreds of times.
“Any time that there is any indication that there may be danger to one of our crews ... they are very quick to stage and not enter that scene until Gwinnett County police or city police arrive on the scene to secure the scene,” Myers said. “There was just no indication whatsoever in this incident.”
Given a 7:30 p.m. deadline, members of the Gwinnett County SWAT team and other police leadership decided enough was enough. With firefighters having been held hostage inside the Suwanee home of Lauren Holman Brown for more than two hours, it was time to act.
Under the guise of delivering the Captain D’s Brown had demanded for dinner, one SWAT officer approached the house. Several others swarmed in from various entry points, deploying “noise-light diversion devices,” Gwinnett Walters said Thursday.
Brown — the 55-year-old who had feigned heart problems to summon emergency personnel there almost three hours earlier — began firing. He struck one officer in the forearm, but that officer shot back.
Brown was killed, and the hostages were freed, primarily unscathed. Six guns were found inside the home.
A nightmarish afternoon ended right at the 7:30 p.m. deadline.
“We were like, ‘Oh my god,’” said 12-year-old Jasmin Gutierrez, who was in her family’s home next door during the ordeal. “We all kneeled down and we all started breathing hard, because as soon as the flash-bang happened they started shooting.”
Walters said Brown — who released one of the initial five firefighters early on to move a truck — made demands for power to be restored to his house, his cellphone to be reactivated and his Internet and TV service to be rebooted.
"He repeated his initial demands and said that more demands would follow, however, he flatly refused to release additional hostages,” Walters said. “In an effort to buy time for negotiations and tactical planning, the initial demands were met.”
Brown and negotiators continued to talk throughout the incident, and at about 5:15 p.m., the divorcee demanded police “bring wood and tools to his home and board up his window and doors,” giving a 7:30 p.m. deadline. At about 6:30 p.m., he made the demand for food, not knowing it would help seal his fate.
After the incident, firefighters told investigators that Brown claimed to have planned his actions for weeks: “He told his hostages that he targeted firefighters rather than police so that he would not be shot when he attempted to take hostages.”
The SWAT team member who shot and killed Brown, the lone officer to fire during the incident, officials said, had surgery Thursday morning and was expected to make a full recovery.
The men he helped save were treated for superficial wounds and reunited with their families, who had been transported to fire headquarters for up-to-the-second information, at Gwinnett Medical Center late Wednesday. Myers said his men are receiving counseling and the decision as to how much recovery time will be granted will be made on an individual basis.
“We will certainly see to that,” Myers said.
Myers balked at a roundabout question that vaguely suggested arming firefighters Thursday, saying there’s a “definitive line” between police and other emergency personnel. Walters, though, did say they had discussed arrangements for police officers to further assist firefighters in the future, “if that’s what they feel comfortable in doing.”
The police chief reiterated that the firefighters in this week’s situation had no way of knowing what they were walking into. He repeatedly offered praise for their actions.
“I can’t say enough about what that calm does,” he said. “These are guys that operate under pressure every day, but this is an anomaly for them. That calm allows us to have at least one thing that we don’t have to worry about at the scene.”
Meanwhile, Station No. 10 functioned normally throughout Wednesday and Thursday. It will continue to do so, one way or another, until its men return.
And get back to risking their lives.
Location of hostage situation
Location of hostage situation