Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bank robbery

Hostage ordeal ends in suicide
Suspect hangs self in Albany bank; 4 captives are safe

By MATT PACENZA and BOB GARDINIER, Staff writer, Albany (NY) Times Union
First published: Sunday, August 28, 2005

ALBANY -- An armed man who took four hostages at a Pine Hills bank hanged himself Saturday evening, ending a tense five-hour standoff with police in the midst of a busy neighborhood. The hostages were unharmed.
Just after 6 p.m., three female employees and one male customer of the Trustco Bank at Madison Avenue and West Lawrence Street hustled out the bank's front door, just across the street from the Albany Police Department's Center Station. When a police SWAT team stormed the bank, they found the suspect dead, hanging in a back room.

The scene unfolded as nearby streets and restaurants were busy with families dropping off arriving college students. Dozens of residents peered around police barricades as the drama played out. An official using a bullhorn pleaded with the hostage-taker to surrender and free the hostages.

Police officers surreptitiously entered the building at about 5:15 p.m., but they were not directly involved in the release of the hostages or the suicide of the suspect, police said. They gained entrance after a police helicopter hovered 30 feet above the bank, creating a diversion so that a team could enter the building for a possible rescue attempt.

But less than an hour later, officers saw the hostages inside the bank gesturing for them to enter. Police in turn waved for the hostages to exit. They exited the bank at 6:07 p.m. As a precautionary measure, officers handcuffed the three employees and one customer. They determined that the suspect was still inside.

They even ordered the bank customer, a man, to drop to his knees and put his hands behind his head. Police reacted cautiously, authorities said, because they did not know until that moment that there was a fourth hostage in the bank. It was quickly determined that the customer was not the suspect. The hostages were debreifed, taken to an area hospital for evaluation and then released to their families, police said.

The confrontation began at around 1 p.m., when the suspect -- who police declined to identify by name Saturday night, saying only that he was a "youngish," white male -- entered the bank as it was closing. A silent alarm in the bank was triggered, said Detective James Miller, Department of Public Safety spokesman.

About 30 minutes after the drama ended, Mayor Jerry Jennings held an impromptu conference. "All four of them are safe; he committed suicide," said Jennings.

The standoff paralyzed a bustling neighborhood. Police escorted diners and bar patrons at several Madison Avenue establishments out their back doors as the afternoon dragged on.

Gari McGladrigan was in Albany to drop off her 18-year-old son, an incoming freshman at The College of Saint Rose, at his dorm room. She waited anxiously Saturday afternoon, unable to get to her car that was trapped behind police barricades.

"I had to say goodbye to my son in the middle of all this," said McGladrigan.

The Middletown, Conn., resident and emergency room nurse is no stranger to stress.

Her husband, a paramedic and the Saint Rose student's stepfather, is currently serving in a medical unit in Tikrit, Iraq.

"It's been a trying year," she said.

About an hour before the standoff ended in suicide, an official's voice amplified by a bullhorn could be heard. These sentences were clear: "Open the door. ... We can work it out. ... We need some way to talk now. ... Pick up your phone and call."

Officers were in communication with the hostage-taker earlier in the afternoon, according to Jennings, but those talks broke off as the afternoon waned. The police's work was complicated by the fact that the suspect was able to view security cameras from inside the bank that gave him a view of the street outside, according to the mayor.
As of Saturday night, police were not saying why the unidentified man had entered the bank or why he had taken the hostages. They also would not specify with what weaponry he had.

At least two teams of SWAT officers, police snipers and other police converged on the bank at about 1 p.m. Vehicles and officers from the FBI were also on scene.

Madison and Western avenues were closed between Allen and North Main streets. Police, in cordoning off the area, shut down neighborhood businesses, asking employees and patrons to stay inside places like the Price Chopper at 1060 Madison, a Mobil station at 1075 Madison, and Mahar's tavern at 1110 Madison.

Susan Graham, a nearby resident who was dining at Junior's, just west of the bank, said a police officer had told patrons at 1:30 p.m. to remain inside the restaurant. About two hours later, those inside were escorted out a back door and evacuated from the area.

Scores of neighborhood residents and the media gathered on sidewalks and street corners watching the scene unfold.

"The Albany Police Department did a fantastic job," said Bob Leonard, a Trustco bank spokesman. After being asked about previous robberies at the location, he said, "It's just unfortunate, we wish it didn't happen."

Matt Pacenza can be reached at 454-5533 or by e-mail at

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