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Gunman Releases Hostages at Religious Center

May 3, 1996

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ A gunman who was injured while helping to build the headquarters of a conservative Christian group stormed into the complex Thursday and took four people hostage, police said. The hostages were released uninjured after nearly two hours.

Police negotiators were trying to talk the gunman into surrendering. He was holed up in the lobby of the main administration building of Focus on the Family, which was observing the National Day of Prayer.

One of the hostages, Laurilee Keyes, said the gunman promised not to hurt them, but appeared nervous and kept cocking and uncocking the hammer of the handgun.

``He was yelling and shouting,″ said Keyes. ``First I thought, `Am I ready to see Jesus?′ And I thought `yes,′ but then I thought about my kids and my grandkids, and I thought about how I was going to miss them.″

The gunman told her, ``I’m under control and I know exactly what I’m doing,″ Keyes, who gives tours at the facility, told KUSA-Channel 9.

Colorado Springs Police Lt. Allan Scott said the gunman was holding what appeared to be a stick with an electrical switch on it, which was connected to a satchel on his body that he claimed was filled with explosives.

Keyes said she saw something strapped to his chest when he stripped down to his waist at one point to show her his injuries. He also held a pen-like device in his hand and ``talked about blowing himself up,″ she said.

Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family, said the man apparently was injured while helping put up the three-building complex and felt he had not been adequately compensated.

``He apparently doesn’t feel workers compensation or the construction company took care of it,″ Minnery said.

About two hours after the standoff began, the unidentified gunman released his four hostages but remained barricaded inside the building talking to police, Minnery said.

Keyes said the gunman was on the phone talking with a police negotiator when she heard him say the hostages could leave. ``We stood up and one of the guys said, `keep walking.′ I think God changed his heart.″

Mike Trout, a senior vice president for Focus on the Family, said none of the hostages was seriously injured. One woman was taken to a hospital for possible shock.

About 500 people were in the main administration building when a security guard apparently saw the gunman, notified police and set off a fire alarm, Minnery said. The workers were evacuated as police arrived on the scene.

``We assumed it was just another fire drill and everybody left the building,″ Minnery said. ``We all realized it was a serious situation when police cars started rolling up the drive.″

Sherry Lohse, a center employee, said it was ironic that the standoff occurred during the National Day of Prayer.

``Other organizations gathered to pray for the man, the situation, and for us when they heard about it,″ she said. ``It’s a shame it takes something like this to bring attention to the National Day of Prayer.″

Minnery said when the other employees evacuated and found out what was going on, they also gathered for prayer. ``It gave us a good opportunity to pray for our employees and this man,″ he said.

The Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family is a $100 million-a-year-operation dedicated to family and moral values. An estimated 5 million Americans tune into its weekly radio program, which is broadcast by more than 2,500 stations around the world.

Late last year founder James Dobson met with several Republican presidential candidates in an effort to influence Washington politics. Dobson was in Washington on Thursday.

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