Police: hostage-taker gave no signs of compromise

Nation-_Firefighters_hostages.jpgA Gwinnett County Police Department crime scene investigator carries a handful of used stun grenades Thursday afternoon, April 11, 2013, outside the Suwanee, Ga., house where Lauren Brown held firefighters hostage the night before. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ben Gray)

SUWANEE, Ga. — As a gunman held four firefighters hostage in his Georgia home, police tried to buy time and create a rapport by meeting his initial demands. But when his requests became unreasonable and negotiations seemed to go nowhere, police said, officers stormed the house and killed him after he fired on them.

Authorities on Thursday provided new details on Wednesday’s hostage-taking north of Atlanta, including how the suspect — 55-year-old Lauren Brown — lured firefighters to his home.

Meanwhile, some who knew Brown said he’d suffered from disabling medical problems and was struggling financially, and that he had lived across the street from his ex-wife.

Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters said Brown called 911 complaining of chest pains Wednesday afternoon, and five Gwinnett County firefighters arrived at 3:48 p.m., believing it was a routine call. Brown was lying in bed and appeared to be suffering from a condition that left him unable to move. But when they approached the bed to help him, he pulled out a handgun, Walters said.

Brown told his hostages he had spent weeks planning the ambush and targeted firefighters rather than police officers so he wouldn’t be shot, Walters said. Investigators found half a dozen guns in his house.

One of Brown’s first demands was to move the fire truck and ambulance from in front of his house, and he released one firefighter to accomplish that, police said.

Next he asked that power be restored to his house, which was in foreclosure; that his cellphone be reactivated; and that his cable and Internet service be turned back on. Police checked and learned that those services had all been deactivated due to non-payment. They worked with the utilities and companies to get them turned back on.

Then Brown asked for a meal to be brought in from a fast-food seafood restaurant for him and his hostages. But he had also asked about an hour earlier for police to bring tools and wood and to board up the windows and doors of his house from the outside.

“That was the one we couldn’t realistically meet,” Gwinnett police Cpl. Jake Smith said, adding that they didn’t want to fortify Brown inside with the hostages.

Instead, a SWAT officer carrying the food approached the house in Suwanee, about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Other SWAT members set off a stun blast to distract Brown and stormed the house. Police said 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.

Thursday, it wasn’t immediately clear why Brown had lashed out. Brown had separated from his wife years earlier, but he had lived across the street from her, her new husband and Brown’s two children, according to neighbors and people who knew the family.

“We knew he wasn’t quite normal, but this is a real shock,” said David Books, a former colleague of Brown’s and a friend until they had a falling out years ago. He said he never noticed any signs that Brown could be violent.