Sheriff: Standoff suspect used child hostage as human shield
LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) - A gunman who held a small boy hostage in a standoff that spanned more than 30 hours used the 10-year-old as a "human shield," Butler County's sheriff revealed Sunday.
"He wouldn't allow that 10-year-old to leave his sight," Richard Jones said in a news conference.
"We felt he wanted us to shoot him. We could hear the child inside. He was crying, he wanted to get out."
The suspect, Donald Tobias Gazaway, 31, was taken into custody as the SWAT standoff finally ended about 6:30 a.m. at an apartment complex off Hamilton-Mason Road.
The boy seemed OK, the sheriff said. First responders gave him a doughnut and draped a fire coat over his shoulders to warm him up. He was taken to a hospital with his mother for an evaluation.
"I'm just happy that this turned out all right and he's going to be OK," the boy's mother told reporters at the scene, insisting on anonymity. "Everything gets back to not normal, but I can have peace of mind."
Gazaway was booked into the county jail charges of kidnapping, felonious assault and inducing panic.
He has been on parole following his release from a state prison in July, state records show. His arrest is a violation of that parole. In this case, given the seriousness of the charges, Gazaway is all but guaranteed to go back to prison.
He served more than four years for a felonious assault conviction with a gun specification in Hamilton County.
Back in 2013, Gazaway was accused of attempting to harm five people by firing several shots during an argument at a party of 30 or more people at U.S. 50 and Cooper Avenue in Cleves, an affidavit states.
He was armed again when he arrived at the boy's mother's apartment about 11:30 p.m. Friday, Jones said. But Gazaway didn't show his weapon right away, not until an argument erupted, according to the sheriff.
He asked the boy's mother for money, and she refused, Jones said. The dispute escalated, and he pulled his gun.
The mother and her brother, Rodderick Dontane Trammel, ran out, leaving the boy alone in the apartment with the gunman.
"They said that they were scared that he had a gun. I don't know many mothers if any at all that would leave their 10-year-old son or daughter in the house with some guy that's holding their son or daughter with a gun," Jones said in a radio interview Monday.
Trammel was arrested shortly after the standoff began. He was booked into the county jail by 9:30 a.m. on charges of misconduct in an emergency and disorderly conduct.
Meanwhile, negotiators tried to communicate with the gunman through a megaphone as they began the process of trying to coax him out. He responded by firing 20 to 30 gunshots at authorities.
No one was hurt.
Bullets struck an armored SWAT vehicle and a SWAT robot, according to the sheriff.
A few hours later, the sheriff said he fired two more shots at them, right before 1 p.m.
Authorities believed the man had more ammunition, but they did not return fire. They didn't want to do anything to possibly agitate him and put the child at even greater risk, Jones said.
They kept trying to communicate with the gunman, tossing him cell phones he mostly ignored.
They delivered McDonald's meals to him and the boy and gave them water to drink.
Authorities said they listened as the boy cried and begged to be released. He asked his captor why he was doing this to him. But Gazaway refused to let him go, not even to allow the child to use the bathroom.
As the standoff stretched into Saturday night, police SWAT teams from West Chester and Hamilton arrived so exhausted sheriff's SWAT members could go home and sleep.
This turned the standoff into one of the largest joint operations in county history, Jones said. In all, hundreds of first responders arrived at the apartment complex over three days.
The standoff also is believed to be the longest in the region, second to a 2013 Latonia SWAT situation that ran 19 hours.
It drug on so long because the SWAT team couldn't use tactics such as flash bangs or tear gas.
The risk to the boy's safety was simply too high , the sheriff explained.
"Having a hostage, and a hostage of this age, a child ... everybody knew just what was at stake, just how important this was," said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit.
All was fairly quiet at the complex overnight.
The operator of the complex, Springs at Liberty Township, kept their clubhouse open 24 hours to give first responders, residents, and others a place to come in from the arctic cold, use the bathroom and drink and eat.
Then, as dawn approached Sunday, the vehicle ran out of gas.
This was the turning point.
The SWAT team had parked an armored vehicle directly behind the car, completely blocking it. They also had secured the apartment to prevent him from escaping inside.
Gazaway had nowhere to go.
With the car - and its heating system - off, it was just a matter of time in the single digit temperature before he had to make a move.
Would he try to make a break for it, using the boy once again as a shield?
Or, freezing cold and worn out, would he simply give up?
Gazaway surrendered, holding the boy's body in front of his, using the child as a shield one final time.
Then, the men who wear shields took the boy to safety.
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