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Man releases 1 of 3 hostages from St. Joseph bank

JAY SOWERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — A U.S. Marshal speaks with local emergency personnel Tuesday afternoon near the Tensas State Bank in St. Joseph, where a gunman was holding three bank employees hostage.
JAY SOWERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — A U.S. Marshal speaks with local emergency personnel Tuesday afternoon near the Tensas State Bank in St. Joseph, where a gunman was holding three bank employees hostage.


LATEST UPDATE: Click for audio file at scene.

Click link for seond part of audio: Audio file Part B

ST. JOSEPH, La. (AP) — Authorities say a man who took three people hostage at a rural Louisiana bank has released a female bank teller and that negotiations are continuing to secure the release of the other two, a man and a woman.

Louisiana State Police superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson confirmed the release of the hostage Tuesday night. He said authorities were talking with her about the nine-hour ordeal.

Police said the hostage-taker, whom they have not identified, is a 20-year-old man whose family owns a store across the street from the bank branch. Authorities have said they have no reason to believe any of the hostages have been harmed. The bank’s employees are two women tellers and a man, said Mayor Edward Brown.

Edmonson has said the man has been calm and has made some demands, but the police official has declined to describe the demands or further identify the gunman.

Law enforcement officers from four parishes responded to the incident, according to the Tensas Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The gunman, carrying at least a handgun, took the hostages captive about 12:30 p.m. at the Tensas State Bank branch in St. Joseph, and the negotiator talked with him throughout the afternoon, said state police spokesman Trooper Albert Paxton.

The red brick bank is just off Louisiana Highway 128, a rural stretch of road cutting through cornfields, and across the street from Trak convenience store, which the gunman’s family owns, in St. Joseph, the seat of Tensas Parish.

Edmonson warned that the standoff could last for some time.

“Our utmost concern right now more than anything else is the safety of those hostages,” he said.

More law enforcement people and equipment will be brought in. “This is a fluid situation. We’ve got to be prepared to act,” Edmonson said.

Brown said that, as a general rule, the town’s most notable crimes are the occasional drug busts, and some residents are so frightened about what’s happening that they’ve left town.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also set up a no-fly zone within a 5-mile radius of the town for aircraft flying below 3,000 feet.

According to The Vicksburg Post, Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Claiborne County was on high alert after the gunman allegedly made a threat “against the closest nuclear station,” Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas said. “We are on watch and Grand Gulf is on watch,” Lucas said.

Paxton said he believed that the Trak convenience store was evacuated, but there were few other occupied buildings within the perimeter that state police and the FBI set up.

Richardo  Miles, a 25-year-old farmworker, said he lives about a half-mile from the bank. He sat on his bicycle at a roadblock near an abandoned hardware store about a quarter-mile away, watching dozens of first responders, including paramedics and heavily armed men in camouflage.

A helicopter circled overhead in the overcast sky for a time as men, some carrying assault rifles, gathered in the street in front of the bank. Law enforcement trucks also hauled in construction lights, apparently to prepare in case the standoff lasted into the night.

The sight of the state police bomb squad and SWAT team unnerved many people in the sleepy farm town, Miles said.

“It’s kind of startling for the residents. We’re not accustomed to this kind of activity,” said Miles. “Some people are pretty scared. They’re nervous.”

Tensas Parish lies along the river, but St. Joseph is about a mile from the riverbank and about two miles from a 3,000-acre oxbow lake that long ago was one of the river’s bends. Nearly one-third of the parish’s 5,000 residents live under the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census figures. Farmland makes up more than 45 percent of the 600-square-mile parish, with most of it in cotton, feed grains, soybeans and wheat.