GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - The gunman who spent hours holed up with a group of Gwinnett County firefighters he took hostage spent weeks planning his strategy, according to the county’s police chief.
Five firefighters were taken hostage at a home on Walnut Grove Way in Suwanee on Wednesday afternoon. Police said Brown called 911 and faked a heart attack to get authorities to him. Around 3:45 p.m., the firefighters found Brown lying in bed, but were soon being held at gunpoint, police said.
“He told his hostages that he targeted firefighters rather than police so he would not be shot when he attempted to take hostages,” Police Chief Charles Walters said.
The SWAT team arrived, and made contact with Brown using the firefighters’ radio, Walters said. He said Brown was heavily armed and had a series of requests with specified deadlines: restored power, Internet, television and cellphone reactivation. Walters said the accounts were deactivated for nonpayment.
“In an effort to buy time, the initial demands were met,” Walters said.
He said the hostages were forced to gather chairs and rope to restrict their movement.
Brown also wanted an outside fire truck to be moved, and he allowed one of the hostages to leave to move it. Negotiators were in contact with Brown, but Walters said he refused to release any additional hostages.
“Brown repeatedly told negotiators that he was in control and the police were not,” Walters said.
The next request was for wood and tools to board up windows and doors, with a 7:30 p.m. deadline. Meanwhile, a SWAT officer posed as a Captain D’s delivery person to respond to a food request.
“As the 7:30 p.m. deadline approached, negotiators became convinced that Brown would not release the hostages, even if his demands were met,” Walters said.
Brown allowed two of the hostages to leave the bedroom to retrieve the food, and the SWAT team moved in for the rescue, “deploying noise/light diversion devices,” Walters said.
When officers entered Brown’s bedroom, he began shooting at the first officer in the door, Walters said. The injured officer shot back, fatally wounding Brown.
“No other officers fired their weapons. The two remaining hostages took cover in the bedroom and received only minor injuries,” Walters said.
He said the injured officer is expected to make a full recovery and the firefighters only sustained minor injuries.
The next morning, investigators were back at the scene searching for evidence. Crime scene tape surrounded the home, which sustained substantial damage. Sources with the county’s Hazardous Device Unit said the SWAT team used a breaching charge to gain access to a rear bedroom.
Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston spoke to one of Brown’s neighbors, who was at home during the standoff. Ozzie Greco has lived next door to Brown for seven years.
“He was very sick in the mind,” Greco said.
Greco said Brown was a nice man, but he said with the home’s foreclosure and personal problems, Brown’s mental health began to wane. A Freddie Mac representative confirmed the home was foreclosed but not yet on the market.
Other neighbors said Brown was a quiet man who used to live on one side of Walnut Grove Way with his family. After a divorce, he moved into his deceased mother's home across the street. Then, the foreclosure took place.
"It's sad, because I remember him as a good person," said neighbor Claudia Bayoma.
Greco said he offered Brown help two weeks ago, but he declined.
“The last two months, he was really down,” said Greco.
Greco said he stepped outside as the first hostage was released prior to the shooting. He didn’t know what was going on at the time.
“He was worried, and he was worried for me, too. He said, ‘Please go inside or get out of here,’” Greco said.
Neighbors said their homes were also damaged by the blast from the SWAT team. Angie Quinones' friend has a bedroom up against a damaged wall nearby.
"Her room, there's a big hole, I guess where the bomb or the flashbang hit," said Quinones. "It cracked the wall."
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