La. town turns to healing after hostage standoff

AP News
Posted: Aug 15, 2013 4:17 AM
La. town turns to healing after hostage standoff

ST. JOSEPH, La. (AP) — Soon after the bank hostage standoff ended in the small Louisiana town, the mayor said he heard from a lot of angry residents. Some in this rural town of 1,200 near the Mississippi border told him the gunman's family should move away.

"The healing process is going to take time," said Mayor Edward Brown, who has been in office for 13 years.

The rural town along the Mississippi-Louisiana border was thrust into the spotlight Tuesday when 20-year-old Fuaed Abdo Ahmed took three bank employees hostage. He released one of them late Tuesday. But as law enforcement officers sought to rescue the other two after the gunman threatened to kill them, Ahmed shot both, authorities said. The male bank employee was killed and the woman was critically wounded before state police fatally shot Ahmed.

Ahmed was angry and believed his ex-girlfriend's family had broken them up and was responsible for putting a device in his head, according to a letter found in a van parked near the bank. The letter detailed his plan to take employees hostage and had a list of demands, including safe passage to another country.

The mayor said there had never been any problems with anyone in the family, which owned a convenience store across the street from the bank. Brown had exchanged pleasantries with Ahmed only an hour before the standoff began Tuesday afternoon and said he seemed "just normal."

Sheriff Rickey Jones identified the slain hostage as Jay Warbington. The wounded woman, LaDean McDaniel, remained in critical condition Wednesday evening at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, La., hospital spokeswoman Charla Ducote said.

Ahmed's high school football coach and a teammate described him as an amicable star running back with good grades.

"It's not like he ever exhibited aggressive behavior when playing football. He was a normal good kid. It's not like he ever had any fits of rage. Ever," said Ben Durham, his former coach at Briarfield Academy in Lake Providence. The team voted Ahmed captain at the start of his senior year, during which he had 2,700 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns, Durham said.

But three or four months ago, Durham said, some paranoid tendencies emerged during a Facebook conversation. Durham said he asked if Ahmed kept up with some of his Briarfield teammates and was told no, because they had started to beat him up.

"I know they didn't do that," Durham said.

Two neighbors heard gunshots from near Ahmed's house Monday and Tuesday before the standoff, but didn't think it was unusual enough to call police.

During the standoff, Ahmed grew increasingly erratic as negotiations went on, and sometimes he hung up on police. One of his demands to authorities was that they get the device out of his head, Louisiana State Police superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said.

Armed with a .380 semiautomatic handgun and an assault rifle, Ahmed kept the hostages in a small work room where the bank vault is, the sheriff said.

During negotiations, authorities were able to get Ahmed on the phone with a friend in Alaska, which was crucial in convincing him to release a female hostage. Jones said it's not clear why he targeted the bank.

The remaining hostages were both shot with a handgun. Edmonson said Ahmed also had a duffel bag containing items he was going to use to torture the hostages.

"His intent was to inflict pain and kill these individuals," Edmonson said. State police didn't say what was in the bag, but did say Ahmed never used whatever it was.

Jones said Ahmed had recently traveled to California and Yemen, returning two or three weeks ago. At some point he'd been receiving treatment for mental health issues.

Still, the gunman's brother told the sheriff he hadn't displayed any signs of violence recently.

Ahmed's parents were from Yemen, but he was a U.S. citizen. The detailed list of grievances and demands gave no indication that he had a political or religious motive, Edmonson said.

On a Facebook page under Ahmed's name, there are photos of him smiling and wearing a baseball cap backward.

Ahmed discussed philosophy of life from the Tao Te Ching, a 6th century BC Chinese text, and said he is a fan of comedian Jerry Seinfield, rapper Eminem and Islam.

Recent posts show a darker side. On Sunday, he displayed a cartoon strip in which a gunman and negotiators discuss whether a hostage's life is worth a sandwich.

A high school teammate, 18-year-old Neal Brown, said Ahmed was outgoing, funny and popular at the private school. He said Ahmed wasn't much of a partier like other students because he spent long hours working at the family business in addition to playing football.

Brown said Ahmed "was just the most amazing person there was."


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey and Bill Fuller in New Orleans and Stacey Plaisance in St. Joseph, La.