BUCKEYE, Ariz. – Two inmates with a history of violent crime climbed down from a prison guard tower and surrendered after releasing their last captive, peacefully ending the longest U.S. prison hostage standoff (search) in decades.
"In the end, waiting it out paid off," Corrections Department Director Dora Schriro said Sunday following the conclusion of the 15-day drama that left the medium- to high-security Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis (search) in lockdown.
The final hostage — a female corrections officer who was captured with a male colleague during an apparent botched escape attempt Jan. 18 — was receiving medical care.
"Her voice is exceptionally strong," said Schriro of the guard, whose name was not released. "I would characterize her spirit as being exceptionally strong. To the eyes, she looks well."
Corrections officials declined to immediately say what led to the surrender, but in one concession, one inmate was allowed Thursday to give an interview to a Phoenix (search) radio station, which broadcast the interview after the standoff ended.
"It was initially an escape attempt. We were on our way out. This was a stopping point to get some arms, firearms, to get out of here. Unfortunately, the plan went bad," one of the inmates, Ricky Wassenaar, told KTAR-AM radio in an exclusive interview, which the station said was granted in exchange for the woman's release.
The woman guard later thanked Schriro for not ordering the tower to be stormed. Gov. Janet Napolitano (search) said the guard told the director, "Thank you for not leaving me, thank you for not rushing the tower, they would have killed me."
Negotiators had regular contact with the inmates throughout the standoff, and at times had seen the guard or talked to her by telephone. The male corrections officer was released Jan. 24.
Prison officials on Sunday identified the hostage-takers as Wassenaar, 40, and Steven Coy, 39. Both were taken into custody by the federal Bureau of Prisons and weren't immediately charged.
Wassenaar is serving 28 years for armed robbery and assault. Coy, who is serving a life sentence, has spent the better part of two decades in Arizona prisons.
Coy's offenses include theft, burglary, criminal damage and drug possession. He was sentenced to life after a 1993 crime spree in Tucson that included armed robbery, aggravated assault and rape.
Throughout the negotiations, prison officials exchanged food, cigarettes and toiletries for ammunition from the tower and opportunities to talk to or see the guards. Many of the early exchanges were done with a robot.
Schriro said officials will now examine prison policies carefully and work hard to see the inmates prosecuted. "As an agency-wide effort, all of us are going to come together and take a hard look at our policies," she said.
After the end of the stand off, officials released information on how they took over the tower.
In the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 18, Wassenaar and Coy were armed with makeshift knives when they were released from their cells to report for duty as part of a kitchen work crew, officials said. Wassenaar approached a corrections officer and a kitchen worker in the kitchen office and forced the officer to turn over his uniform and equipment, including handcuffs, the department said.
Coy overcame another officer, restraining him in some manner, and bound a Corrections Department kitchen worker with an electrical cord, officials said.
Coy allegedly sexually assaulted the female kitchen worker, according to a state official who spoke to The Associated Press only on the condition of anonymity.
Wassenaar then directed the rest of the inmate work crew into a storage area and locked the door behind them, corrections officials said. He shaved his beard, put on the officer's uniform and headed for the tower.
One of the two officers in the tower let Wassenaar through a gate and into the tower after he buzzed the gate and the guard confused Wassenaar for a fellow officer, according to the Corrections Department.
Wassenaar then overcame the guards and took them hostage. Coy injured another officer as he was chased toward the tower; he reached the building after Wassenaar opened fire from the base of the tower, officials said.
Wassenaar told KTAR-AM that the eventual release of the male officer was not a result of negotiations.
"Me and my partner sat here and discussed that he was 21-years-old, he didn't need to die in here. We kind of discussed his future with him and he pretty much guaranteed us he was going to seek a new occupation. And that was one of the reasons we let him go."