Man held after Virginia gun siege
Thursday 24 December 2009
A disabled man was in custody today after a gunman who took several hostages at a rural post office in Virginia finally surrendered.
The hostages' ordeal ended when police who had surrounded the post office in Wytheville ordered the suspect to let the hostages go and come out with his hands up.
Soon after, four people, including a man in a wheelchair, left the building.
State police Sgt Michael Conroy said the disabled man was the suspected gunman.
Earlier, police said the man holding the hostages had entered the building pushing a wheelchair.
Shots were fired earlier, but there were no reports of injuries. Relatives said the hostages have been able to contact them by phone.
The suspect, said to have been missing part of his leg, was being searched by police.
Authorities had been negotiating with the suspect to release the hostages, who had been held since mid-afternoon local time yesterday.
Wytheville is a town of about 8,500 in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The suspect made no demands other than to ask for a pizza, said Pete Rendina of the US Postal Inspection Service.
An officer delivered food and drink to the front door of the post office at the request of the suspect, state police said.
Virginia State Police sent in SWAT and a bomb technician. Police told the Wytheville Enterprise the man had what appeared to be five pounds of a common plastic explosive strapped to his chest.
Susan Holman, manager of a store across the street, said officers told employees to leave the building because there was a man with what appeared to be explosives in the post office.
"The officer told us the man had enough explosives to take out the whole block," Ms Holman told the Enterprise.
Carlton Austin said his daughter, postal worker Margie Austin, was among the hostages. She managed to call a family friend and say she was fine.
Niki Oliver told the Enterprise that her brother, Jimmy was one of the hostages and had been able to phone family members.
"We love you," she yelled to him as his mother was speaking to him on the phone.
Niki Oliver said her brother went to the post office to send a Christmas gift to his son.
Postal worker Walt Korndoerfer said he was in the post office when he heard shots and a co-worker ran past. He called police and then ran himself.
His wife Christine said he called to tell her he had got out safely.
"My husband is not one to get upset," she said. "When he called, I don't think I've ever heard him so upset."
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