Hostage-taker targeted Gateway 3 because of its easy access, he tells police

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The man accused of holding a hostage Downtown today told police that he woke up in "an evil mood" and selected Gateway 3 because he noticed women entering the building freely and believed he could do the same.

Klein Michael Thaxton's stop there was the last on an early morning journey that began at what police described as a transitional living residence in Beechview, Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said at an afternoon news conference.

The 22-year-old packed a plastic bag with a kitchen knife, a cell phone charger and a hammer and hopped on his bike about 3 a.m.

Ronda Thaxton talks about her son

Ronda Thaxton, the mother of hostage suspect Klein Michael Thaxton, talks about her son. (Video by Andrew Rush; 9/21/2012)

Police talk about condition of hostage, what's next for gunman

Police spokeswoman Diane Richards talks about the condition of hostage Charles Breitsman and what's next for the gunman, identified as Klein Michael Thaxton. (video by Andrew Rush; 9/21/2012)

Chief Harper details hostage situation

Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper talks about the hostage situation at Gateway 3, Downtown.

He tried to head Downtown through the Fort Pitt Tunnels but was stopped by workers who told him he couldn't ride through. Instead he went across the West End Bridge and into Downtown, where he spotted a police officer directing traffic and contemplated hitting him with the hammer and taking the officer's gun.

"He said, 'I feel powerful when I have a gun,'" Chief Harper said. When he saw a second officer he thought better of it, believing he would be killed.

He ventured farther Downtown to Gateway 3, where he sat on a ledge eating a candy bar and watching women freely walk into the building, the chief said. He did the same.

Mr. Thaxton went to the 22nd and 23rd floors but couldn't get into the offices because he lacked a pass key. So he went to the 16th floor, where he found Charles W. Breitsman, whose office had a computer, a cell phone and a television set, and decided that was where he would make his stand, the chief said.

He knew Mr. Breitsman's name only from seeing it on the door of the office. Chief Harper said the hostage-taker had no connection to the hostage.

Mr. Thaxton pulled out his knife, went inside the office and shut the door, telling everyone else to leave. He wanted to target a man, he said, because he had already targeted a woman during a previous carjacking in McKeesport.

He threatened Mr. Breitsman with the knife, held it to his throat and threatened to kill him, the chief said.

Officers initially believed he had a gun because he told Mr. Breitsman he would shoot him. They believed he had a bomb because the cell phone cord was seen hanging out of the plastic bag he carried into the building. Police now say he had neither weapon.

Mr. Breitsman was held hostage for nearly six hours, while Mr. Thaxton intermittently posted Facebook comments to friends who responded more than 700 times.

"When he saw there were 700 comments, he felt that people were concerned and he was important," the chief said. Facebook distracted him from harming Mr. Breitsman, but it also distracted Mr. Thaxton from negotiations. the chief said.

Police negotiators ultimately coaxed Mr. Thaxton out, but they agreed to let him speak to an ex-girlfriend he had not seen since 2008. Officers drove her from her house to the building and she communicated via phone.

He will be charged with crimes including unlawful restraint, terroristic threats and aggravated assault. Mr. Breitsman was shaken but otherwise unharmed, Chief Harper said.

Mr. Thaxton surrendered about 1:50 p.m.

Asked what broke the standoff, Chief Harper said, "The negotiators. They were very successful in keeping the lines of communication open."


Shortly after the surrender, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Mr. Breitsman "is doing OK at this point, a little shaken up." He is being brought over to [police] HQ" for debriefing.

"He met with his family," she said. "They were reunited, and he was very happy to be back with his family."

The suspect's mother, Ronda Thaxton, said she last saw her son a few weeks ago when he visited her to do his laundry.

She had a suspicion he was troubled.

"I felt something was wrong, but I just couldn't put my finger on it," Ms. Thaxton said before the surrender.

Pittsburgh police had been in contact with Mr. Thaxton for hours. He and the hostage were in Suite 1625 of the building at 401 Liberty Ave., occupied by Mr. Breitsman's company, CW Breitsman Associates, LLC, a third-party firm that helps administer others' insurance, retirement and pension plans.The firm was founded in 2007 by Mr. Breitsman, an employee benefits expert who formerly served as president of the board of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Mr. Thaxton's Facebook page was updated even after the hostage was taken. As of about 1 p.m., the page had been taken down.

8:54 a.m.: "i cant take it no more im done bro"

8:56 a.m.: "how this ends is up to yall bro"

9 a.m.: "welln pops youll never have to woryy about me again you'll nevr need to by me anything no need to ever waste ur hard earned money on me. i'll live n jail you dnt want me around anymore thats kool bye"

9:03 a.m.: "this life im livn rite now i dnt want anymore ive lost everything and i aint gettn it back"

11:16 a.m.: In a plea for people to stop posting "silly" things to his page, "i aint laughin rite now"

Officials got the page shut down because it was "distracting," Chief Harper said.

Mr. Thaxton has earned the attention of police before.

In July 2011, Mr. Thaxton was arrested for a variety of charges, including recklessly endangering others and receiving stolen property, after he was accused of stealing a car in McKeesport. Police said he led them on a chase from Oakland through the South Hills and back into the city. He was captured after leaping from the roof of an auto body shop in Uptown and injuring his ankle.

He was then arrested in September 2011, and charged with robbery and related crimes.

Mr. Thaxton was admitted to a Veterans' Court program in November.

As part of his service plan, dated Dec. 29, he agreed to participate in a dual inpatient treatment facility, and at the conclusion of the program would move to a half-way house.

Mr. Thaxton agreed to cooperate with any recommended mental health and drug and alcohol treatment as well.

Mr. Thaxton was accepted into inpatient treatment through Pyramid Wilkinsburg.

In January, he pleaded guilty to robbery, receiving stolen property, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He was sentenced to six to 12 months incarceration, but was immediately paroled to placement.

To qualify for Veterans' Court, a defendant must be either active duty or a veteran who has been diagnosed with an Axis I mental health disorder and is currently facing criminal charges. Mr. Thaxton's court files do not make clear what his diagnosis was or what branch of the military he was in.

According to court records, Mr. Thaxton's probation officer filed a violation notice with the court May 23, noting that he was at Altoona Hospital at the time. He was scheduled for a violation hearing on June 13, but it is unclear what happened at that hearing.

His next scheduled court appearance was to be Nov. 8 with Judge John A. Zottola in veterans' court.

PG graphic: Map of Gateway Center area
(Click image for larger version)

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Sadie Gurman: Rich Lord: Timothy McNulty, Michael A. Fuoco, Bill Schackner and Lillian Thomas contributed. First Published September 21, 2012 12:45 PM


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