Army: Ex-soldier demanding behavioral treatment takes hospital workers hostage, surrenders

By Russ Bynum, AP
Monday, September 6, 2010

Army: Ex-soldier takes 3 hospital workers hostage

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A former Army soldier seeking help for mental problems at a Georgia military hospital took three workers hostage at gunpoint Monday before authorities persuaded him to surrender.

No one was hurt and no shots were fired in the short standoff at Winn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart, about 40 miles southwest of Savannah, said fort spokesman Kevin Larson. Military officials said the hostages were able to calm the gunman and keep him away from patients until he surrendered.

Military police arrested the gunman, who was being questioned Monday afternoon. His name was not immediately released.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, a senior Fort Stewart commander, said the former soldier was seeking help for mental problems that were “connected, I’m quite certain, to his past service.”

“He hadn’t gotten the care that he wanted and he wanted it now,” Phillips said, based on what one of the hostages had told him. “He’d had some experiences that could lead one to believe there were aftereffects to his service.”

Both he and Larson declined to be more specific, citing the active investigation.

The suspect walked into the hospital’s emergency room at about 4 a.m. carrying two handguns, a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic version of a submachine gun, Phillips said. He took a medic hostage and headed to the building’s behavioral treatment wing on the third floor.

An Army psychiatric nurse spotted the gunman and approached him to talk, Phillips said. That nurse was then taken hostage along with a behavioral health technician who refused to allow the gunman through a locked door to the patient area.

Still, the nurse — an Army major — was able to start calming the man.

“Working together, they maintained the situation, kept the gunman out of the territory where he could harm someone else and bought time for someone else to get there,” Phillips said.

Military police soon arrived and surrounded the hospital. Army investigators trained in hostage negotiations worked their way to the floor.

In less than two hours, they persuaded him to put down his weapons and surrender.

Because the suspect is a civilian and the standoff involved hostages on a federal installation, the FBI was called in to help with the investigation. It was unclear Monday what charges the man would face.

Fort Stewart, the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River, is home to the 3rd Infantry Division. Most of the division’s 19,000 soldiers are deployed to Iraq. It’s the 3rd Infantry’s fourth tour in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

Phillips said he’d seen nothing to indicate the former soldier had previously sought treatment at the Fort Stewart hospital.

“He broke the law, obviously, and he threatened people” and would have to face the consequences, Larson said. “But we are going to get him the help for behavioral health.”

(This version CORRECTS Clarifies in 5th paragraph that general said a hostage told him gunman wanted care. Edits throughout to tighten sentences, make minor corrections.)

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