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Ind. woman taken hostage: Gunman seemed agitated before taking hostages, shooting himself
VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) ' Accountant Carolyn Biesen was working in her Indiana real estate office when she heard a commotion near the front desk. She walked out, saw a man standing over her injured co-worker on the ground, then yelled at him to leave.
"That's when he pulled his gun out ' and pointed it in the air," she told The Associated Press late Friday, several hours after she and several other people were taken hostage by the gunman.
Biesen, 51, retreated back into her office, locked herself in, shoved a file cabinet in front of the door and called 911. Curled up under her desk, she heard two gun shots, then several more in rapid succession.
The man, police said later, was looking for someone he believed owed him money when he went into the Prudential Executive Group Real Estate office in Valparaiso on Friday morning. Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner said officers believe the gunman shot himself twice in the head before SWAT members rushed in almost seven hours later, after the last two hostages were released unharmed.
An ambulance rushed the man to a hospital, but he died Friday evening, police said.
"He has some history here, but we believe he's from out of state," said Brickner, who declined to release the man's name.
Police received a 911 call around 10 a.m. reporting a man with a gun had entered the brokerage office. Sgt. Michael Grennes said there was a "brief exchange of gunfire" when officers arrived.
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., Grennes said.
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. "It was scary. But I was thinking about my loved ones," she said.
Smiling and visibly relieved, Biesen spoke Friday night from her home, where several dozen family and friends gathered after word broke she had made it out unharmed.
Despite the trauma, she said she felt sorry for the gunman, noting he could have decided to surrender the office after all the hostages were released.
"It's very sad," she said.
Associated Press writer Ken Kusmer contributed to this report from Indianapolis.
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