ST. JOSEPH, La. (AP) — A gunman took three people hostage Tuesday at a bank in rural Louisiana and a state police negotiator was brought in to talk to the man, authorities said.
The man, armed with at least a handgun, took the people captive about 12:30 p.m. at the Tensas State Bank branch in St. Joseph, and the negotiator talked with him throughout the afternoon, said Trooper Albert Paxton, a state police spokesman.
The bank's employees are a man and two women tellers, said Mayor Edward Brown.
As a general rule, he said, the town's most notable crimes are the occasional drug busts, and some residents are so frightened about what's happening that they've left town.
"It's a quiet town. Very little crime. So this is amazing," Brown said.
The red brick bank is just off Louisiana Highway 128, a rural stretch of road cutting through cornfields, and across the street from a Trak convenience store in St. Joseph, the seat of Tensas Parish. The town of 1,200 is near the Mississippi River, downriver from Vicksburg, Miss., in northeast Louisiana.
Paxton said he didn't know whether the three hostages were bank employees or if any customers were inside.
He said he believed that a Trak convenience store across the street was evacuated, but there were few other occupied buildings within the perimeter that state police and the FBI set up.
Richardo (rik-AHR-doh) Miles, a 25-year-old farmworker, said he lives about a half-mile from the bank. He sat on his bicycle at a roadblock near an abandoned hardware store about a quarter-mile away, watching dozens of first responders, including paramedics and heavily armed men in camouflage.
A helicopter circled overhead in the overcast sky for a time as men, some carrying assault rifles, gathered in the street in front of the bank. Law enforcement trucks also hauled in construction lights, apparently to prepare in case the standoff lasted into the night.
The sight of the state police bomb squad and SWAT team unnerved many people in the sleepy farm town, Miles said.
"It's kind of startling for the residents. We're not accustomed to this kind of activity," said Miles. "Some people are pretty scared. They're nervous."
Tensas Parish lies along the river, but St. Joseph is about a mile from the riverbank and about two miles from a 3,000-acre oxbow lake that long ago was one of the river's bends. Nearly one-third of the parish's 5,000 residents live under the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census figures. Farmland makes up more than 45 percent of the 600-square-mile parish, with most of it in cotton, feed grains, soybeans and wheat.