Police are negotiating with a “relatively calm” gunman, Klein Michael Thaxton, and is believed to be holding 1 or 2 persons hostage in a downtown Pittsburgh high-rise, the city’s police chief said Friday.
Police have identified the suspect, and know that he was once in the military, but won’t divulge his name, Chief Nathan Harper said. They believe one hostage was targeted by the alleged hostage-taker, Harper said.
The situation is contained to one room of a suite on the 16th floor of Gateway Center building number 3, Harper said. As of 10:55 a.m., no one had been hurt and no shots had been fired, Harper added.
The police chief said the incident is happening at a company called CW Breitsman Associates, which handles money for pension funds.
Police received calls shortly after 8:15 a.m., reporting a man with a gun. Some witnesses reported he was carrying at two duffel bags. Harper said the suspect also claimed to have a bomb.
Several people who work in the building told local television stations that police had evacuated them from the building. Harper said since the incident was contained to one room, evacuations were minimal, and people were still occupying other parts of the skyscraper.
Jim Garra, who works at AXA on the 16th floor, told WTAE that when he arrived at work around 8:10 a.m., security officers were milling about. When he took the elevator to his office, he found a commotion, including a woman he described as “hysterical, on the phone,” describing an intruder in the building. Garra said he locked the door to his office until police came to evacuate it.
Public transportation has been shut down at Gateway Center, and police have blocked off nearby roads as well.
Mr. Thaxton’s Facebook page has been updated even after the hostage was taken.
8:54 a.m.: “i cant take it no more im done bro”
8:56 a.m.: “how this ends is up to yall bro”
9 a.m.: “welln pops youll never have to woryy about me again you’ll nevr need to by me anything no need to ever waste ur hard earned money on me. i’ll live n jail you dnt want me around anymore thats kool bye”
9:03 a.m.: “this life im livn rite now i dnt want anymore ive lost everything and i aint gettn it back”
11:16 a.m.: In a plea for people to stop posting “silly” things to his page, “i aint laughin rite now”
The building, completed in 1952, is 24 stories — 344 feet — high.
The firm on the 16th floor was founded in 2007 by Mr. Breitsman, an employee benefits expert who formerly served as president of the board of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
Chief Harper said Mr. Thaxton walked into the suite at 8:10 a.m. and claimed he had a gun and a bomb. He asked questions about “an individual,” the chief said, then took a hostage.
At least three other people in the office were ordered to leave, witnesses said.
Kathi Dvorak, who works across the hall from CW Breitsman, said a woman ran into her office yelling “Somebody’s robbing us! Call 911!”
Another woman ran in, who grabbed a phone and also called 911.
They locked the door and stayed for five or 10 minutes until building security arrived to evacuate them.
Kevin Gormly works in a law firm on the 15th floor. He said he arrived for work about 8:05 a.m. and saw people running from lobby elevators yelling about a man with a gun.
He went up to the 15th floor anyway, he said, to make sure everyone was OK but instead met police, who escorted him back down and told him there was an “emergency situation.”
“In the lobby the security guards were running everywhere and calling 911 and people were running out of the building,” Mr. Gormly said.
Then police began evacuating the lobby and the 16th floor.
“We were thankful,” he said. “We wanted to get out of there and we didn’t want to risk going through the hallways.”
Police have blocked streets and secured other floors of the building. Chief Harper said only the lobby and the 16th floor were evacuated because the situation is still fluid, though police believe the man is confined to one room.
Police have closed blocks of Penn Avenue, Commonwealth Place and Boulevard of the Allies. The Gateway Center T station is closed as is the Fort Pitt Bridge ramp into Downtown.
People evacuated from Gateway 3 massed outside 4 Gateway Center and were being directed toward Point State Park. Officers also cleared the Gateway Center courtyard.
Telling evacuees the man inside could have a rifle, authorities asked them to move outside all sight lines to the building.
Mr. Thaxton has earned the attention of police before.
In July 2011, Mr. Thaxton was arrested for a variety of charges, including recklessly endangering others and receiving stolen property, after he was accused of stealing a car in McKeesport. Police said he led them on a chase from Oakland through the South Hills and back into the city. He was captured after leaping from the roof of an auto body shop in Uptown and injuring his ankle.
He was then arrested in September 2011, and charged with robbery and related crimes. He pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced to time served on the carjacking charges, and six to 12 months in prison on the robbery.