Three women being held hostage in a bank ran from their captor early Thursday, but one was recaptured when the gunman pulled her back, police said.

The escape came nearly eight hours after police said the gunman first entered the bank and demanded money. It was not known if the women, both bank employees, were injured. Five hostages were released earlier during negotiations with police, authorities said.

The man entered the Bank of America branch around 5 p.m., authorities said. He took eight people hostage after employees alerted police to the attempted robbery, but released three of them shortly after, said sheriff's Lt. Keith Douglas.

After a nearly three-hour standoff, the suspect released another hostage — a female bank employee — around 8 p.m. Another was released around 10:15 p.m., authorities said.

"He's been releasing hostages. We hope that continues, and that this ends calmly," said Douglas.

Douglas said the man demanded a car amid the negotiations.

A sheriff's SWAT team, police officers and FBI agents surrounded the bank, located in downtown Exeter about 40 miles southeast of Fresno, late Wednesday and evacuated neighboring businesses.

Margie Riportella, who had walked out of the bank with her young daughter moments before the standoff, said the man was carrying a briefcase but she saw no weapon. Douglas said the man had a handgun.

"He's got everyone in the middle of the room," Riportella told the Visalia Times-Delta.

About a block away, the Wildflower Cafe remained open to feed officers and family members of the hostages for free, said manager Rachel Lindholm. About 9,800 people live in the close-knit central California town.