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SWAT officers talk about effort to free firefighters taken hostage | News

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SWAT officers talk about effort to free firefighters taken hostage

SUWANEE, Ga. -- Thee members of the Gwinnett County SWAT team say they were all willing and ready to enter the Suwanee home where four firefighters were being held hostage.

The officers are speaking for the first time about the events of April 10 on Walnut Grove Way.

"He let it be known early on that he was in charge, that it wasn't a negotiation," said Sgt. Jason Teague.

55-year-old Lauren Brown called 911 the afternoon of the 10th complaining of chest pains. Five firefighters got to the man's home and found him lying in bed. Minutes later, he showed them a handgun and took them hostage. 

During the standoff, Brown used rope and tape to restrict the firefighters' movements. Officers later found six guns inside Brown's home.

PHOTOS | Gwinnett County firefighters held hostage

One firefighter was let go so that he could meet one of the gunman's orders: to remove the fire truck from the front of his home.

Sgt. Jeff Johnston says he fully expected Brown to shoot him once the decision was made to enter the home.

"I was expecting to get hit in the legs," said Johnston. "I was expecting to feel heat ripping through my legs, hoping if he did shoot me I could see where the gunfire was coming from and return fire."

Teague, Johnston, and Officer Nicholas Boney were the three officers who would enter the home after negotiations with the suspect went nowhere.

The final one where he said he wanted all his doors and windows boarded up, that's a clear sign he wasn't expecting to come out," said Johnston.

Brown had hit on hard times. Police met his demands to restore his electricity and cable. When Brown demanded that officers board his home, they knew time was running short.

The firefighter who was released was able to give the SWAT team a rough outline of the home. It was identical to a house Sgt. Teague had once owned.

"It was a cookie cutter blueprint of a house I bought years ago," said Teague.

Sgt. Teague found an unlocked window, and the three SWAT officers entered the home. Brown and the hostages were inside the master bedroom. The officers quietly searched the rest of the house to make sure no one was there.

At 7:30 p.m., nearly four hours after the hostage situation began, officers detonated a concussion grenade to both stun and distract the suspect. Sgt. Teague lead the way into the master bedroom. 

It was full of smoke.

"We weren't able to see a foot in front of our faces," said Teague.

Unable to see the suspect or the hostages, Teague yelled for Brown to put his weapon away. Brown opened fire.

"Kind of a helpless feeling when your buddy is in a gunfight right beside you, and you can't help him," said Boney.

Teague advanced into the smoke toward the suspect and the gunfire.

"We're now shooting at each other," said Teague. "Once we start shooting, we in essence shoot each other at the same time."

Teague was hit in the arm.

"I saw him let go of his gun, and he said, 'I'm hit,'" said Johnston. I grabbed for him and tried to get him behind me to protect him." 

The gunman was killed during the standoff.   

The five brave Gwinnett County firefighters sat down with 11Alive News that following Tuesday, April 16. They talked about the standoff that changed their lives forever. 

Firefighter Tim Hollingsworth said while he and his crew were held hostage, Brown told them about money and family problems. Hollingsworth believed Brown intended to kill the firefighters, set the house on fire and then kill himself. 

11Alive dug into Brown's background, talked with his former friends and relative, and plowed through court documents. It soon emerged that Brown had a troubled past of divorce, bankruptcy, a history of violent outbursts and a painful condition. Brown's struggles may have led to his reason for holding the firefighters hostage.

Sgt. Teague and his fellow SWAT officers say if a similar situation arises, they're ready to go.

"There's a lot of hard things to explain why I wasn't injured worse than I was, how my teammates weren't hit," said Teague. "I'm that much more confident if this call comes in again tomorrow, we'll be able to do even better."


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