Pa. hostage call prompts social media training

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Thaxton, who remains jailed unable to post $1 million bond, faces a preliminary hearing Oct. 17 on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and terroristic threats in the confrontation at a financial services firm on the 16th floor of Three Gateway Center, a 24-story office tower in Pittsburgh.

Although police were vitally concerned about the hostage’s welfare, and did what they could to check up on him, the negotiators were careful not to ask Thaxton too much about his hostage.

“Clearly we’re always very concerned about the hostage,” Lando said. “But when we’re doing negotiations, we have to make it all about the hostage taker.”

Too many questions about the hostage and the suspect “might feel like, ‘You don’t care about me. You just want to say whatever you need to say to get this person (the hostage) out of here,’” Lando said.

Instead, negotiators try to find people the hostage taker cares about who will help the negotiator build empathy.

“People want to tell their story,” Lando said. “Listening to them is a cheap concession.”

In Thaxton’s case, key issues were his inability to find a job and his feelings for an ex-girlfriend he hadn’t seen since 2008. Police arranged for her to speak with Thaxton, but only once the hostage was released. Thaxton surrendered, and police were sure they could keep the woman safe with Thaxton handcuffed and in custody.

“We try to find hooks — their schooling, work history, personal relationships,” Lando said. “Oftentimes personal relationships are the source of why they find themselves in crisis.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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