The police involved in a hostage situation were faced with an interesting decision.
It wasn’t whether to send in a robot or storm into a building, it was whether to have the hostage taker’s Facebook page shut down.
Here’s what they knew: A 22-year-old man in Pittsburgh had taken another man hostage and was holed up in a suite on the 16th floor of a high-rise office building.
And the suspect, Klein Michael Thaxton, had been on Facebook for hours.
“People were sending Facebook messages. We could see that he was paying more attention to Facebook than to the negotiating team, which was hampering our abilities to resolve the situation,” Diane Richard, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Police Department, said about Friday’s incident.
Richard said SWAT officers kept an eye on the Facebook page for at least two hours before making a joint decision with the district attorney to ask for the page to be shut down.
Facebook, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Richard said not every message asked Thaxton to give up, that some encouraged him to keep going.
Detective Robert Shaw of the Pittsburgh homicide division said Thaxton was arraigned on Saturday and charged with aggravated assault, kidnapping and terrorist threats. Thaxton is being held on $1 million bail.
“Mr. Thaxton has expressed remorse for what has happened. However, at this time we do not wish to speculate as to why this alleged incident occurred.,” his attorneys said in a statement. “Moreover, we are unable to discuss his mental health history or the role that a mental health disorder may have played in this matter.”
Thaxton surrendered peacefully, and his hostage was not harmed, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper said Friday.
Police said Thaxton, a former Army private, had a criminal record. He pleaded guilty in January to robbery and related charges, and, after serving several months in jail, was allowed to transfer his sentence under veterans court to an inpatient treatment program, his attorneys said.
Thaxton was in the Army from December 2008 through June 2010, but was never deployed, according to a release the Army sent CNN.
On Friday, police received calls shortly after 8:15 a.m., reporting a man with a gun on the 16th floor of Gateway Center Building No. 3. Some witnesses reported he was carrying two duffel bags. Harper said the suspect initially claimed to have a bomb, but later admitted he had no explosives.
The suspect walked into CW Breitsman Associates and asked for a Charles Breitsman, so police believe he was targeted, Harper said.
CW Breitsman handles money for pension funds. The chief said the suspect never worked there, and it’s unclear how he was related to the company.
In addition to police negotiators, some of Thaxton’s family members, including his mother, who was at the scene, spoke to Thaxton during the ordeal, Harper said.
Harper said since the incident was contained to one room of a suite on the 16th floor, evacuations were minimal, and people still occupied other parts of the skyscraper.