Police enter the Prudential Executive Group Real Estate office Friday, May 25, 2012, in Valpariso, Ind., where a gunman was holding an unknown number of hostages before shooting himself twice in the head. Police say the gunman held employees hostage inside the building for several hours before releasing the last two unharmed.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Times of Northwest Indiana, Jon L. Hendricks
VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) — A gunman looking for someone he believed owed him money shot himself inside an Indiana real estate office several hours after releasing hostages Friday, and he died after being rushed to a hospital, police said.
Two loud bangs were heard Friday afternoon before SWAT team members rushed into the Prudential Executive Group Real Estate office in Valparaiso, where police said the gunman had holed up.
"He has some history here, but we believe he's from out of state," said Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner, who declined to release the man's name.
Prudential accountant Carolyn Biesen said she was in her office around 10 a.m. when she heard a commotion near the front desk and then a thud, which she was told was the gunman hitting the marketing manager and knocking her down.
She walked out of her office, saw a man who looked agitated and told him to leave.
"That's when he pulled his gun out — and pointed it in the air," she told The Associated Press late Friday.
She slowly retreated back into her office, locked it, shoved a file cabinet in front of the door and called 911 and her husband. Curled up under her desk, she heard two gun shots, then a series of shots. She later heard officers yelling at the man to come out.
"It was scary. But I was thinking about my loved ones," she said.
Police received a 911 call around the same time reporting that a man with a gun had entered the brokerage office. Sgt. Michael Grennes said there was a "brief exchange of gunfire" when officers arrived.
Brickner said officers believe the gunman shot himself twice in the head before SWAT members entered the building. Police said the man was rushed to a hospital but died Friday evening.
Grennes said there were fewer than 10 people in the building when the incident began, and the last two hostages were released unharmed after 3 p.m.
No hostages reported being shot, though Grennes said one person who was struck in the head was treated and released from a hospital.
Another witness, Randy Baker, said he was in an adjacent parking lot shoveling asphalt when an officer wielding a pistol suddenly ran by and asked if he'd seen or heard anything about a gun. When Baker said he hadn't, the officer approached the Prudential building.
Seconds later, the officer began firing at least half a dozen times in rapid succession, he said.
"It was like boom, boom, boom, boom," Baker said.
After jumping behind his B&G Seal Coating truck when the firing began, Baker peeked slowly around and saw a woman through a Prudential window — cowering under an office desk.
"That's what really scared me," Baker said. "And I ran out of there fast."
SWAT team members broke windows in the building and stormed inside less than two hours after the last hostages were released.
Mack Elliott, an agent at the brokerage, wasn't in the office at the time but said he spoke with agents who were there and believed the incident stemmed from a dispute over a real estate transaction.
Biesen, the accountant, said she didn't believe the gunman intended to hurt her.
"If he wanted to, he could have come right into the office — maybe shooting through the door," she said Friday evening from her home, where she gathered with relatives, neighbors and friends.
She said she felt sorry for the gunman, noting that he could have decided to leave the office after all the hostages were released.
"It's very sad," she said.