Staff Photo: Jason Braverman The five firefighters that were held hostage at gunpoint last week in Suwanee spoke to the media on Tuesday moring at the Gwinnett County Fire Headquarters in Lawrenceville. Pictured from left are Jody Moss, Jason Schuon, Tim Hollingsworth, Chip Echols and Sydney Garner.
First-hand accounts from firefighters held hostage
The five Gwinnett Firefighters held hostage at a Suwanee home recall their experiences.
911 Call and GCFD Radio Recordings
Listen to raw audio of the 911 call and the Gwinnett County Firefighters radio recordings from the day Suwanee man Lauren Brown took 5 firefighters hostage.
LAWRENCEVILLE — As final goodbyes go, it was, Chip Echols will admit, pretty cliche — something along the lines of “I love you, I hope to see you soon.”
Echols sent his girlfriend the text message while being held hostage inside 2440 Walnut Grove Way last Wednesday afternoon, Lauren Holman Brown alternately pointing a six-round revolver at him and four fellow Gwinnett County firefighters. The soon-to-be-engaged couple laughs about it now, to avoid really thinking about it, but his fate was truly in limbo that afternoon.
When Echols was finally reunited with friends and family — a SWAT team having come to the rescue after a three-plus hour standoff — it was not yet time for jokes.
“She’s a very petite woman,” Echols, a five-year department veteran, said of his girlfriend. “But when she was squeezing me I thought a 300-pound man was giving me a bear hug.”
Echols and his colleagues from Station No. 10 spoke to the media for the first time Tuesday. Firefighter-driver engineer Tim Hollingsworth, firefighters Jody Moss and Jason Schuon and firemedic Sidney Garner joined him in describing the what will likely be the most harrowing experience of their lives.
“My personal opinion is (Brown) wanted to board the house up, kill us, set the house on fire, shoot himself and then let the fire (department) come in and put the fire out,” Hollingsworth said. “He was wanting so bad to see it on TV.”
As has been reported from the get-go, the dual-unit crew was called to 55-year-old Lauren Brown’s home that afternoon under the guise of his having chest pains, a call they respond to “four, five, six times a day.”
They had actually begun running tests on Brown before the course of things took a dramatic turn.
“Two or three minutes into the assessment, this person took his blood pressure cuff off and brandished a weapon, pointed the gun at us and told us that now it was time for the real reason that we were there,” Hollingsworth, the crew’s leader with more than 20 years experience, said Tuesday.
Brown reportedly ordered the firefighters to take their shirts off so “he could see that we didn’t have any weapons.” He told them that he had been planning the event as far as six weeks in advance.
Thinking calmly and clearly, the crew tried to buddy up to their captor.
“We told him that if he had planned it for that long, we didn’t feel that he had planned it very well if he didn’t have us a pot of coffee,” Hollingsworth said with a grin.
That comment set the tone for a sort of casual hostage situation, at least inside — things were tense, but the men were allowed to brew coffee and go to the bathroom, leaving the master bedroom where Brown remained perched the entire time. They were allowed to text message, both each other and their families.
Schuon, a rookie who’s been on the road only since January, said it was odd for Brown to give them so much freedom.
“He encouraged us to call our family, but I didn’t want to hear my wife’s voice,” Schuon said.
“I think each one of us was in fear the whole time,” Garner, a four-year veteran, added. “He kept saying he had surprises on the outside for people on the outside, and he had surprises in case somebody tried to come in.”
Each man played a crucial role throughout the ordeal.
• Hollingsworth was the calm voice transmitting Brown’s demands (namely to have his power, cable, Internet and cell services reconnected, and his windows boarded up) to fire and police officials.
• Moss, a four-year veteran with military experience, was the firefighter sent out early on to move the crew’s engine. Once out, he was able to give SWAT team members a layout of the home’s interior and specifics on where the suspect was camped out.
• Schuon, sensing it was important to Brown to see the situation portrayed on TV, disconnected the cable box to buy time.
• Echols and Garner helped keep things light and get Brown’s guard down, and spread the word of the SWAT’s impending action.
“I figured it would be a lot harder for him to shoot somebody if he felt we were his friends,” Moss said.
Hollingsworth said many people have asked why the men didn’t try and overtake Brown, who stayed in bed with three revolvers. The fear of the unknown, and Brown’s repeated threats that he “had all of his bases covered,” kept the men at bay, he said.
“The way that he was laying in the bed and the comments that he made, we didn’t know if there was a trigger under him to the point that if we grabbed the weapon, we didn’t know if there was going to be any kind of explosive under him,” Hollingsworth said.
After making it through Wednesday’s ordeal unscathed, Echols still had some very important business to take care of.
He had already planned to take his future in-laws to dinner the following evening, the goal to ask for their blessing. They said it could be rescheduled, obviously.
But Echols kept his promise — and they gave the hero permission to marry their daughter.
“She pretty much has to say yes now,” Echols grinned.
MOBILE USERS: Click here to view a video from the press conference.