LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. -- The Georgia firefighters taken hostage following a phony medical call joked with their captor to gain his trust and teased that he hadn’t planned the ordeal well because he didn’t have a pot of coffee ready for them, the men said Tuesday.
The firefighters recounted the April 10 ordeal for the first time during a news conference, detailing how they were able to keep 55-year-old Lauren Brown calm and relay information to police outside. Gwinnett County police Cpl. Jake Smith said the firefighters were model hostages, keeping Brown calm and sending useful information to officers outside by text message. A SWAT team stormed the home about four hours later and killed Brown, whose home was in foreclosure and who was dipping into retirement savings to make ends meet.
Brown was in bed complaining of chest pain when they arrived at the home about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, and there was nothing unusual, said engine driver Tim Hollingsworth, the team’s commander.
But within a few minutes, things took a drastic turn when Brown took off the blood pressure cuff and told them: "I hate to do this, but now for the real reason why you’re here," said firefighter Jody Moss. Brown then pulled out a gun and pointed it at the firefighters. He had two other guns in the bed, Moss said.
"He started making demands, so at that moment right there, I realized we’ve got a little bit of time," Moss said. "If he’s making demands, this is a hostage situation right now."
He asked the firefighters to take off their shirts so he could see they weren’t armed.
One of his first demands was to have the fire truck and ambulance moved away from the front of his house. Moss went outside to do that because Jason Schuon, who’s been with the department since January, still hadn’t learned how to drive the engine. That gave Moss a chance to draw a plan of the house for officers outside.
Brown’s other demands included restoring his power, getting his cellphone hooked up again and getting his cable turned back on -- all of which were disconnected because Brown didn’t pay the bills. Brown also asked to have the windows and doors of the house boarded up so police couldn’t see or shoot at him.
Brown told them he had been planning the hostage situation for four to six weeks, and that he targeted firefighters because he knew they would be unarmed, the firefighters said.
They tried to lighten the mood right off the bat, joking that he clearly hadn’t planned it that well because he didn’t have a pot of coffee ready. Brown allowed Hollingsworth to leave the room to make some coffee, giving him a chance to get a feel for the layout of the house.
"I didn’t make real good coffee because I had coffee grounds all over the table because I was shaking," Hollingsworth said. Then he returned to the bedroom and gave coffee to his colleagues.
"Without missing a beat, Mr. Schuon said that that’s the reason why the rookie made the coffee around the station," Hollingsworth said with a chuckle.
The firefighters laughed and poked fun at each other, just like they’d do around the station, they said. They also tried to make Brown think he was one of them and that they were on his side, Hollingsworth said. Every time Brown would become agitated -- especially when he talked about his family members or the officers outside -- they would try to change the subject to calm him down, Hollingsworth said.
They told him he hadn’t crossed a line and that they would walk out with him so he could turn himself in to law enforcement, but he didn’t go for that, Hollingsworth said.
Also in the room were medic Sidney Garner and firefighter Chip Echols.
No one tried to disarm Brown because they feared the man may have set up a trigger for an explosion if they tried to overpower him, Hollingsworth said. He said he believes Brown ultimately planned to tie up the men, kill them, set the house on fire and then commit suicide. Two of the firefighters saw rope and tape in the master bathroom.
"He did make the comment that people were not going to believe how well he planned it," Hollingsworth said. "He said that he really had all of his bases covered, that it would turn out exactly the way that he envisioned it."