- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DEVELOPING:

WYTHEVILLE, Va. (AP) — An armed man in a wheelchair took five hostages Wednesday at a post office in western Virginia, forcing officials to cordon off three blocks of a downtown filled with holiday shoppers.

Shots were fired, but there were no reports of injuries. The man made no demands other than to ask for a pizza, said Pete Rendina, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Virginia State Police sent in a SWAT team and a bomb technician, and police at the scene told the Wytheville Enterprise the man had five pounds of a common plastic explosive strapped to his chest. State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller would not confirm that.

Susan Holman, manager of a store across the street, said officers told employees to leave the building because there was a man with explosives in the post office.

“The officer told us the man had enough explosives to take out the whole block,” Holman told the Enterprise.

Mayor Trent Crewe told The Associated Press five hostages were in the building, including three employees and two customers.

Carlton Austin said his daughter, postal worker Margie Austin, was among the hostages. She managed to call a family friend around 4:30 p.m. and said she was fine. Later, her father said, family members were waiting to hear more.

“That’s all we can do,” he said.

Postal worker Walt Korndoerfer said he was in the post office when he heard shots and a co-worker ran past. He called police and then ran himself.

His wife, Christine Korndoerfer, said he called around 3:30 p.m. to tell her he had gotten out safely.

“My husband is not one to get upset,” she said. “When he called, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him so upset.”

Town manager Wayne Sutherland, speaking from his office four blocks from the scene, said dozens of officers had circled the freestanding, brick post office.

“It’s completely surrounded by police in every direction,” Sutherland said. “All I can see is blue lights.”

Rendina said the man was in a wheelchair and missing part of his leg, but he had no other information. Postal inspectors from Roanoke and Charleston, W.Va., were at the scene.

Sutherland said the streets of the town of 8,500 were filled with holiday shoppers.

“It’s Christmas and all the stores are busy,” he said.

Wytheville is the county seat of Wythe County, in southwest Virginia.

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