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.