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Hostage on the Fuel Tank

Wacco was the sixth shooting incident of my FBI career. My very first two weeks out of training there was a kidnapping at Portland International Airport. Abernathy had kidnapped his supervisor and demanded to see his estranged wife and two kids flown in to him from Spokane. As low man, I took the radio out to the airport and worked up background on him. Like me, he was a veteran who had just returned. He was undergoing medical assistance.

His psychiatrist who joined team at airport said to me, “What you’ve got here is someone suicidal. He can’t commit suicide himself, so he’s going to force you to kill him. “

He was siting on an aviation fuel tank, a cylindrical tower about twenty feet high, with a rifle in one hand, a shotgun in the other and his former boss sitting ten feet away in view of FBI snipers. He said he was coming off at high noon. The tank had been filled to avoid fumes exploding from stray round. The doctor said expect him to force his killing then with his family watching. The FBI commander on-scene grew up in the same small community in Arkansas as the subject, whose mother was also his grade school teacher.

This guy’s sitting in the open on this tank. An agent rolls up in a bureau car, gets on its PA system, and said, “this is LB.” (Later number two man at the fbi.)

The guy says, “so what?”

LB says, “I see you’re from Mina, Arkansas.”

The guy says, “yeah, so what?”

“Well, I’m from mina.” There’s a pause. “Furthermore your mother was my teacher in fourth grade.” LB was trying to establish some rapport.

The subject stood up, “I hate my fucking mother!” He fired a round through the windshield of the Bureau car. Agent LB got the hell out of there. This was about ten thirty.

The small plane from Spokane lands about eleven fifty. The plane is taxiing up. He can see it. A couple cars are moving closer to the tower. At the stroke of noon the guy has his hostage start down the circular staircase wrapped around the outside of the tower. Halfway down, the hostage starts running down the steps out of the line of fire. Agents order the kidnapper to drop the guns. He turns on them. They shoot and kill him.

I roll up with other agents as this takes place. The plane with the family diverts. We jump over the retaining wall, rush up to render first aid to mr. Abernathy, now dead on the steps with aviation fuel from the penetrated tank bathing him.

We grab him off the steps, drag him over the retaining wall, put him int he trunk of a bureau car, speed out of the area to a waiting ems unit, which refused to approach after shots were fired.

Aviation fuel is spilling all over the place. The fire department is rolling up.

Again the Instincts

I was coming home on a date and knew something bad was going to come down. Nobody had done anything. Nobody had said anything. But I saw three of them, preparing to get off the bus with us.

One got off in front of me, threw himself down on the ground, and then rose screaming that I had pushed him. A fight ensued. They were all trying to attack me. As the big guy got ready to throw a punch, the other two smaller guys got ready, too, in a half-hearted way. I had been boxing at the time–so I just kept stepping to the left and counter-punching each time the big guy threw a jab. As long as he didn’t land a punch and stagger me, these other two wouldn’t do anything. They were weasels.

Ultimately the big guy – who must have been on coke or something – got frustrated and ran off screaming to harass somebody else.

We left, getting to the corner of Haight and Ashbury under the light, when I heard him coming up screaming behind me. I turned around. He threw a hook, and I blocked it. But it felt like an awfully strong blow. When I stood back I realized with a chill that he had a bloody knife in his hand. And then he just ran away.

I walked down the street high on adrenaline ,going, “Oh, my god!” My girlfriend was terrified. I took a look. I wasn’t sure I had been stabbed. I just saw this ugly welt across my side and thought, “You know, maybe he missed me.”

But when I reached around further, my hands came up with blood. It really is a nightmare. You don’t know what’s happening, but you keep walking and getting weaker.

I walked into a record store, asked for help, then sat down on the ashtray and fell on the floor, and couldn’t breath, and ended up crawling like a rat, trying to hide myself behind the counter. It was ugly.

The medics got there, said my blood pressure was OK and gave me a little oxygen, and I perked up. What had saved me was the twisting. In boxing if someone’s throwing a hook, you’ll turn and drop your elbow. That motion drew the blade. It went in about three inches, between my organs and the outer wall, and made a nasty gash. But I wasn’t severely wounded, just having a normal faint reaction and feeling terrible.

In the emergency room it seemed ironic that there I was, a police and a crime statistician-analyst–a victim of violent crime. Once the emergency crew knew it wasn’t critical, we all had a giddy chuckle.

That’s when I realized you’re either all the way in the police force or you’re not. And I was sort of halfway. That’s really not a position you can stay in.

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