SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) — A gaping hole exposed wooden beams and insulation on one side of a house Thursday where a gunman held four firefighters hostage for hours before being killed in a shootout with SWAT officers.
Before they stormed the home Wednesday evening, they set off an enormous stun blast to distract the man when they feared the hostages lives were in danger. The firefighters were slightly injured in the blast but are fine as is an officer who was shot in the hand.
Earlier in the day, five firefighters answered what appeared to be a routine medical call the Suwanee neighborhood about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, authorities said. They encountered an armed man who demanded that his cable and power be turned back on at the house, which was in foreclosure.
Gwinnett County police on Wednesday night didn't release the name of the dead man or discuss details of the operation but a news conference was set for Thursday afternoon.
"In talking to the firefighters and their families just now, they're relieved," Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said at a news conference late Wednesday outside the hospital. "They're simply relieved that the situation is over, that their family members are with them and that they're safe."
Debris lay all over the yard Thursday of the home where the hostages were taken and 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 as the enormous blast went off.
Soon after the stun blast, officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and a SWAT member was shot in the hand or arm, said Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter. Ritter would not saw how the gunman was fatally shot, saying it was being investigated.
"The explosion you heard was used to distract the suspect, to get into the house and take care of business," Ritter said in a news conference minutes after the resolution. He said the situation had gotten to the point where authorities believed the lives of the hostages were in "immediate danger."
The gunman demanded several utilities be restored, Ritter said. According to public records, the home is in foreclosure and has been bank-owned since mid-November.
"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, the fire department's Rutledge said, and Ritter said officials decided to "get control of the situation" and do it swiftly.
Rutledge said firefighters did not believe there was any danger in responding to the initial call. One engine and one ambulance responded. Ritter said authorities didn't yet know if the suspect may have faked a heart attack or some other problem to bring the firefighters to his home.
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.
Associated Press writers Johnny Clark and Phillip Lucas contributed to this report.