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GATEWAY CENTER HOSTAGE SITUATION: Suspect was armed with knife, hammer; Attack was random



PITTSBURGH - After a more-than-five-hour hostage standoff at Pittsburgh's Gateway Center, Klein Michael Thaxton surrendered peacefully just before 2 p.m. and released the hostage.

“God bless that no one was injured,” Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said.

Channel 11’s Kelly Brennan reported just after 2 p.m. that the hostage, 58-year-old Charles Breitsman, has been safely reunited with his family. He was not injured during the situation.

“He’s doing OK. He’s a little shaken up,” police spokeswoman Diane Richard said of Breitsman.

“No one was injured, and as you can understand, the victim was quite shaken. He knew this individual was very emotional and went through several stages of irrational moods,” Harper said.

Police said the situation started just after 8 a.m. Friday when Thaxton, 22, of Altoona, walked into C.W. Breitsman Associates on the 16th floor of Building Three holding something that looked like a walkie-talkie.

“This began when he woke up at 3 a.m. in an evil mood. He took a hammer, kitchen knife, cellphone, charger and a bike. He then rode from Beechview through the West End, through the North Side and into downtown,” Harper said.

According to Harper, at 7 a.m. Thaxton noticed police officers at the corners outside the Gateway buildings and he felt he needed a gun. Harper said Thaxton considered hitting an officer on the head with a hammer and taking his gun.

“He rode around in the downtown area, decided to take a break, sat on the wall outside the Gateway building and ate a candy bar. He noticed a lot of women going into the building for work and there was no security,” Harper said. “The only reason he went into the building was because he noticed the women were freely walking into the building and that there was no security that he’d have to get past.”

Harper said he originally got off on the 22nd and 23rd floors, but they’re secure, so he wandered down to the 16th floor.

“The reason he didn’t hold anyone hostage on the 22nd or 23rd floor was because he couldn’t get in,” Harper said.

“He looked into the business and noticed a lot of women but didn’t want to victimize a woman,” Harper said. “He then saw Charlie in his office and went in.”

Harper said Thaxton asked Charlie if he had an iPhone, computer or TV. He then pulled a knife out, terrorized Charlie and hollered “If you’re not Charlie, you better leave this floor.”

“He threatened Charlie with the knife, held it to his throat a few times and threatened to kill him,” Harper said.

A person inside of the building told Channel 11 News that it looked like Thaxton was armed with a gun and at least two duffel bags with unknown contents.

Harper said Thaxton is a 22-year-old "ex-military person" who is not related to anyone in the office.

Thaxton's uncle, Parris Thaxton, talked to Channel 11 News.

"It's been a rough time for him lately," he said. "I don't want to speculate, but I know he's troubled. If I could just talk to him one-on-one, there will be a peaceful solution to this."

Channel 11 News has learned that C.W. Breitsman Associates handles union matters and pensions.

Breitsman, the hostage, is the owner of the company.

Just before 11 a.m., Harper said Thaxton’s mother was brought into Gateway Center 3 to possibly help with negotiations.

“I told him I love him,” Ronda Thaxton said after talking to her son on a phone. “I told him we could fix this. We can get him the help that he needs.”

She said it was hard to tell if she was getting through to him.

She last saw her son a couple of weeks ago. He came to her house, washed clothes and spent the night.

“He knew he could always come to my house. Being a mother, I felt in my heart that something was wrong, that he was going through some issue, but I don’t know what.”

“I don’t want him to hurt the hostage,” she said. “I don’t want him to hurt himself.”

Harper said Thaxton does not work in the office at Gateway. Police can’t determine Thaxton’s relationship to the business or his hostage or a motive for the incident, Harper said.

“She has no idea why he’s doing this,” he said of Ronda Thaxton. “We don’t know why he’s selected this company. We don’t know what the tie-in is here. But he’s cooperating.”

“There is no connection whatsoever between the actor and the building. The reason why he chose is was completely random,” Harper said.

Thaxton posted to his Facebook page throughout the incident and police were monitoring it, Harper said. Police took the site down about 1 p.m.

On the page, Thaxton listed himself as having attended several high schools, including Schenley, Carrick and McKeesport, and also said he graduated from Triangle Tech trade school.

“This life im livn rite now i dnt want anymore ive lost everything,” Thaxton posted just after 10 a.m.

“i cant take it no more im done bro,” he posted at around 9 a.m.

Several people responded with posts telling Thaxton to call them and that they loved him and help was available.

“When he saw that there were 700 contacts on Facebook, he felt that people were concerned and felt important,” Harper said. “He was also watching the incident play out on TV.”

The 16th floor was placed on lockdown and the rest of the building was evacuated. Bomb-sniffing dogs were also sent into the building.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Harper praised negotiators for their work in handling the situation.

“Our negotiators did an outstanding job negotiating the actor into surrendering,” Harper said. "Part of his surrender was that he would have the chance to talk to his girlfriend from 2008."

Roads surrounding Gateway Center were shut down as police and SWAT officials investigated. The Gateway T stop was also shut down and Port Authority buses in and around the area were diverted.

Officials with Pittsburgh Public Schools told Channel 11 News that no schools were placed on lockdown.

According to Harper, Thaxton will face kidnapping, terroristic threats and aggravated assault charges.