The scenes were ripped from the front pages of America’s newspapers.
A high school student, distraught over his mom’s affair with his favorite teacher and plans to move away from his father, takes his classroom hostage at gunpoint.
A welder, with an ill wife and nearing retirement, is fired from his job while the boss’ buddy stays employed. His response is to kill the boss and take other employees at the company hostage.
Falls Police Hostage Team negotiators and members of the department’s Emergency Response Team encountered both scenarios during an intense day of training of Thursday.
Using the city’s former public safety building on Hyde Park Boulevard for staging and current recruits at the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy for hostages and hostage-takers, the teams concentrated on how to coordinate their efforts in defusing potentially deadly situations.
They found some hostage incidents can end peacefully while others are terminated with gunfire.
“It’s imperative these teams communicate well (during a hostage incident),” their commander, Captain Ted Weed said. “For us to be able to train together like this is fortunate.”
As the recruit portraying the troubled teen paced in a room with a gun in his hand and his recruit classmates and teacher kneeling on the floor, hostage negotiator Ray Folmar worked steadily on the phone to defuse the situation. From hockey to home life, Folmar tried to engage and gain the trust of the hostage-taker.
It wasn’t easy. There were frequent outbursts of rage and threats to harm the hostages.
ERT teams, stationed outside the room where the hostages were being held, who could hear the threats, stood by as a captain in the police command post outside the building gave them a running description of what was happening between the hostage-taker and Folmar.
“Time is on our side,” Lt. Ron Cirrito, a hostage team commander, said. “As long as nobody’s getting hurt, we’ll keep talking.”
As the drama played out, a recruit, acting as the hostage-taker’s mother, was brought to the command post.
“Normally, we would reach out to everyone we can find and find out as much as we can (about the hostage-taker),” Weed said. “And then we’ll talk to (the hostage-taker) about it. We want to get his mind off of what’s happening.”
For hours the hostage-taker paced the room, screamed, swore and threatened his hostages. Time and again he would rage at Folmer and hang up the phone that connected to the command post.
Yet through it all, Officers Scott Warme, Donny Booth, Charles Fink and Sandy Arist dug for more information about their suspect and Folmar doggedly kept the conversation going.
“As long as nobody gets hurt, we’ll talk for six months,” Weed said with a wry smile.
Finally, the hostage-taker began to grow calm. Then he began to release his hostages.
And after repeated assurances that no one would “shoot him,” he walked out of the room and surrendered to the members of the ERT.
No one was hurt. The incident ended peacefully.
The second scenario began with a call of “shots fired in a welding shop.” As officers arrived on scene they were told an employee who had just been fired had walked in and shot his boss dead.
He then took the remaining employees hostage.
Once again, ERT teams entered the building and stood by This time, Booth took the lead on establishing communication with the hostage-taker.
But the murder of the hostage-taker’s boss complicated this negotiation. The killer, understanding what he had done, began making wild demands.
“Can you promise me I’m not going to be arrested and go to prison for the rest of my life?” he screamed at Booth.
When the negotiator said he couldn’t make promises like that and tried to stir the conversation back to other topics, the hostage-taker wouldn’t take the hook.
“Ok, I want to you to escort me out of here and take me to the Niagara Falls International Airport and put me on a plane to the Bahamas,” he demanded.
Again, Booth said he couldn’t do that. In response, the hostage-taker walked over to a captive and with the phone line to Booth open, he fired.
The negotiator looked stunned. With the death of a hostage, the ERT commander in the command post ordered an assault on the the hostage-taker.
Officers broke through the door to the room, killing the hostage-taker and freeing the remaining hostages.
“There was nothing you could do,” Weed told Booth. “Sometimes this is how these things end and your job is to make sure the ERT can do their job.”
• For video from one of Thursday’s training sessions, visit www.niagara-gazette.com