Gateway Center gunman surrenders; hostage safe

  • Scene-in-downtown-Pittsburgh

    Scene in downtown Pittsburgh, where police say Klein Michael Thaxton is holding a man hostage in Gateway Center 3.

    Post-Gazette/Michael Henninger

  • Scene in downtown Pittsburgh, where police say Klein Michael Thaxton is holding a man hostage in Gateway Center 3.
    Scene in downtown Pittsburgh, where police say Klein Michael Thaxton is holding a man hostage in Gateway Center 3.

    PITTSBURGH — The man holding a hostage at Gateway Center 3 has surrendered.

    Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper announced the development at 1:55 p.m., nearly six hours after the standoff began shortly after 8 a.m.

    The chief said the hostage, earlier identified as Charles Breitsman, was unharmed, as was the man who surrendered, 22-year-old Klein Michael Thaxton.

    "The suspect is in custody. The hostage gentleman is safe. No harm came to him," the chief said.

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

    Mr. Thaxton was being transported to police headquarters for questioning.

    Ronda Thaxton, the suspect's mother, 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 in an interview this afternoon.

    "I have no clue" why her son came to Gateway Center today. "I just want him to get the help he needs."

    Police escort a woman identified as the mother of Klein Michael Thaxton, into 3 Gateway Center this morning. Police say Thaxton is the the man holding a hostage on the 16th floor of Number 3 Gateway Center.
    Police escort a woman identified as the mother of Klein Michael Thaxton, into 3 Gateway Center this morning. Police say Thaxton is the the man holding a hostage on the 16th floor of Number 3 Gateway Center.

    Pittsburgh police had been in contact with Mr. Thaxton for hours. He claimed to be armed with a bomb and a gun.

    He and the hostage were in Suite 1625 of the building at 401 Liberty Ave. The suite is occupied by CW Breitsman Associates, LLC, a third-party firm that helps administer others' insurance, retirement and pension plans and owned by the hostage.

    At a noon news briefing, the chief said negotiators had been in telephone contact with Mr. Thaxton, who was "being cooperative."

    Klein Michael Thaxton

    Mr. Thaxton was admitted to the Veterans' Court program in November. His court files do not make clear how he was qualified for the program, but note that a defendant must be either active duty or a veteran, who has been diagnosed with an Axis I mental health disorder, who is currently facing criminal charges.

    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.

    However, according to court records, Mr. Thaxton's probation officer filed a violation notice with the court on 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 with Judge John A. Zottola in veterans' court on Nov. 8.

    Mr. Thaxton had been communicating with friends via his Facebook account, but officials got the page shut down because it was "distracting," the chief said.

    and orderly fashion."

    "I don't want my son to hurt the hostage, and I don't want my son to hurt himself," his mother said. Police also have put her in contact with Mr. Thaxton, she said, but he he has not surrendered.

    No shots were fired and no one was injured, Chief Harper said. Police cannot confirm what weapons Mr. Thaxton has nor his specific motivation, Chief Harper said.

    "We don't know what upset this individual to go to that floor and take that hostage," he said.

    The hostage was targeted specifically, Chief Harper said.

    PG graphic: Map of Gateway Center area

    (Click image for larger version)

    Mr. Thaxton's Facebook page has been 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"

    The building, completed in 1952, is 24 stories -- 344 feet -- high.

    The firm on the 16th floor 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.

    Chief Harper said Mr. Thaxton walked into the suite at 8:10 a.m. and claimed he had a gun and a bomb. He asked questions about "an individual," the chief said, then took a hostage.

    At least three other people in the office were ordered to leave, witnesses said.

    Kathi Dvorak, who works across the hall from CW Breitsman, said a woman ran into her office yelling "Somebody's robbing us! Call 911!"

    Another woman ran in, who grabbed a phone and also called 911.

    They locked the door and stayed for five or 10 minutes until building security arrived to evacuate them.

    Kevin Gormly works in a law firm on the 15th floor. He said he arrived for work about 8:05 a.m. and saw people running from lobby elevators yelling about a man with a gun.

    He went up to the 15th floor anyway, he said, to make sure everyone was OK but instead met police, who escorted him back down and told him there was an "emergency situation."

    "In the lobby the security guards were running everywhere and calling 911 and people were running out of the building," Mr. Gormly said.

    Then police began evacuating the lobby and the 16th floor.

    "We were thankful," he said. "We wanted to get out of there and we didn't want to risk going through the hallways."

    Police have blocked streets and secured other floors of the building. Chief Harper said only the lobby and the 16th floor were evacuated because the situation is still fluid, though police believe the man is confined to one room.

    Police have closed blocks of Penn Avenue, Commonwealth Place and Boulevard of the Allies. The Gateway Center T station is closed as is the Fort Pitt Bridge ramp into Downtown.

    People evacuated from Gateway 3 massed outside 4 Gateway Center and were being directed toward Point State Park. Officers also cleared the Gateway Center courtyard.

    Telling evacuees the man inside could have a rifle, authorities asked them to move outside all sight lines to the building.

    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. He pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced to time served on the carjacking charges, and six to 12 months in prison on the robbery.

    Sadie Gurman: Rich Lord: Tim McNulty and Lillian Thomas contributed.