HARVEY, Ill. – About two dozen heavily armed law enforcement officers stormed a home in Chicago’s southern suburbs Wednesday to free four remaining hostages and capture two suspects, ending a 20-hour standoff that police say began as a robbery attempt.
Two women and two children were freed midmorning from the home in the small city of Harvey, with the captors at one point firing through a second-floor door as officers rushed toward it down a hallway, said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Footage shot by a TV news helicopter showed officers with body armour, shields and rifles rushing toward the home from two directions and sweeping in through the front door as other officers aimed weapons and took cover near two large armoured vehicles parked out front.
Four children had been freed overnight after hours of talks and the hostage-takers were given cigarettes in exchange, Dart said.
The decision to send armed officers in came after nearly continuous negotiations, during which the hostage-takers intermittently issued threats, saying “they were going to kill the kids … to kill everybody,” the sheriff told The Associated Press in a phone interview later Wednesday.
“It was a roller-coaster ride,” said Dart, who had been on the scene during the all-night talks. “It went from idle chatter to threats, then back to idle chatter to threats again.”
The shots through the door missed officers running up stairs and down the hallway, and officers immediately broke through the door and managed to subdue the hostage-takers, Dart said.
Minutes later, officers ran from the house with the remaining hostages, leading them by hand to an armoured truck, then brought out two men in handcuffs.
Dart did not immediately have the name of the suspects, but he said they appeared to have violent criminal histories.
The standoff began at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday when police in Harvey responded to a neighbour’s report of a possible burglary at the home. Two officers were wounded in an initial exchange of gunfire, and the two suspects barricaded themselves inside the home with the eight captives.
Officer Darnell Keel, an 18-year veteran of the police force, will undergo surgery for a broken arm, Howard said. A second officer suffered a graze wound to an arm.
Dart said talks reached a stalemate at late morning. Negotiators still had an open phone line as the officers used a battering ram on an armoured truck to break down the door and sweep in.
“We’d been giving them opportunities for the last almost 24 hours to come out,” he said, adding that hostage specialists concluded it was the right time to act.
Officers knew both the hostage-takers and the hostages were on the second floor and quickly marched up the stairs after securing the ground floor, Dart said.
It was initially thought no shots were fired during the rescue, but Dart told the AP it became clear later the captors had shot at officers during the operation that lasted just minutes.
The hostage-takers didn’t speak directly to negotiators, but instead used one of the women to relay messages back and forth over the phone, Dart said.
Four of the captive children were from one family and the other two were relatives, according to Dart, adding that nothing indicated any relationship between them and the hostage-takers. One of the adult women held captive is a nurse who was at the home to care for a 2-year-old girl.
No one was hurt physically, but they did show signs of an emotional toll, Dart said. Some of the children were just 1 year old.
“The hostages were hysterical,” Dart said about their rescue. “They were screaming and unable to talk.”
The hostage-takers allowed one of the adult hostages, a nurse, to escort the first four children they released. The woman then had to re-enter the house.
Thomas West told local radio and TV stations that his aunt, the nurse, told him she was glad to get the children out. However, she also feared that by going back into the house, she might not come out again.
“She said all she did was fall in line, did what she was told and that’s the way she was able to get out alive,” West said. “They allowed her to nurse to the kids, feed them, get them what they need.”
Keyser reported from Chicago.