Published January 14, 2015
The mayor of a small Virginia town says fewer than five people are being held hostage inside his town's post office.
Wytheville's Mayor Trent Crewe tells The Associated Press late Wednesday that authorities have accounted for some of the five people that were believed to be hostages. He says he does not know how many were still in the building.
Virginia State Police will only say there is more than one hostage. Relatives of two hostages say they have spoken with their loved ones.
Authorities say they are negotiating with the unidentified suspect to release the hostages.
Shots were fired earlier, but there were no reports of injuries, and relatives say the hostages have been able to contact them by phone. The suspect made no demands other than to ask for a pizza, said Pete Rendina, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
An officer delivered food and drink to the front door of the post office at the request of the suspect, state police said in a news release. Earlier reports said the man was in a wheelchair, but state police said he entered the building pushing one.
A negotiator late Wednesday asked SWAT members, police, fire and others surrounding the building to be quiet because authorities were talking with the unidentified suspect.
Virginia State Police sent in SWAT and a bomb technician. Police in the town in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains told the Wytheville Enterprise the man had what appeared to be five pounds of a common plastic explosive strapped to his chest. State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller would not confirm that.
Susan Holman, manager of a store across the street, said officers told employees to leave the building because there was a man with what appeared to be explosives in the post office.
"The officer told us the man had enough explosives to take out the whole block," Holman told the Enterprise.
Mayor Trent Crewe told The Associated Press the hostages included three employees and two customers.
Carlton Austin said his daughter, postal worker Margie Austin, was among the hostages. She managed to call a family friend around 4:30 p.m. and said she was fine. Later, her father said, family members were waiting to hear more.
"That's all we can do," he said.
Niki Oliver told the Enterprise that her brother, Jimmy Oliver, was one of the hostages and had been able to phone family members.
"We love you," she yelled to him as his mother was speaking to him on the phone.
Niki Oliver said her brother went to the post office to mail a Christmas gift to his son.
Postal worker Walt Korndoerfer said he was in the post office when he heard shots and a co-worker ran past. He called police and then ran himself.
His wife, Christine Korndoerfer, said he called around 3:30 p.m. to tell her he had gotten out safely.
"My husband is not one to get upset," she said. "When he called, I don't think I've ever heard him so upset."
Town manager Wayne Sutherland officers had circled the freestanding, brick post office in the county seat of Wythe County.
"It's completely surrounded by police in every direction," Sutherland said. "All I can see is blue lights."
Pete Rendina, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said the suspect was missing part of his leg, but he had no other information. Postal inspectors from Roanoke and Charleston, W.Va., were in the town.
Sutherland said the streets were filled with holiday shoppers in the traditional-looking American town of 8,500 decked out for Christmas.
"All the stores are busy," he said.