Hostage Crisis Ends at Gateway Center, Downtown
by Margaret Harding Bobby Kerlik and Jeremy Boren
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sept. 21, 2012
A mentally disturbed McKeesport man who told Facebook friends during a standoff on Friday that he wanted to die released a hostage unharmed from a Downtown skyscraper after a six-hour ordeal that brought part of the Golden Triangle to a halt.
Klein Michael Thaxton, 22, threatened to shoot people, and police worried he had a bomb; however, he was armed with just a kitchen knife and hammer when he chose a random victim to hold hostage, police said.
“He was suicidal, he was despondent,” said Pittsburgh police Officer Matt Lackner, who negotiated with Thaxton by phone. “His primary issues were failure to find employment and the break-up of a relationship.”
It was the latest in a pattern of violent, erratic behavior for Thaxton, who was kicked out of the Army, struggled with mental illness, had multiple runs-ins with police and served time in the Allegheny County Jail in the past two years, according to court records, family and friends.
“I’m just so relieved,” said his aunt, Stephanie Moore of Knoxville. “I just didn’t want anything to happen to him or anybody he had in there.”
Thaxton walked into C.W. Breitsman Associates on the 16th floor of Three Gateway Center about 8:15 a.m. holding something that looked like a walkie-talkie, witnesses said. He surrendered about 1:50 p.m., freeing company owner Charles Breitsman, 58, of Ligonier.
“God bless that no one was injured,” police Chief Nate Harper said.
When police led Thaxton from police headquarters about 5:25 p.m., he told reporters, “I’m going to jail, bro.”
He declined to answer questions on his way to the county jail, where he was held on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and terroristic threats.
Thaxton woke up “in an evil mood” and biked away from a Beechview halfway house about 3 a.m., Harper said. He ended up outside Three Gateway Center, where he ate a candy bar and walked inside when he saw that security didn’t check identification.
“This is totally random,” Harper said. “The only reason he went in was because women were freely walking in.”
I told him I love him. I told him we could fix this. We can get him the help that he needs. Being a mother, I felt in my heart that something was wrong, that he was going through some issue, but I don’t know what.
— Ronda Thaxton, Klein Michael Thaxton’s mother
Thaxton didn’t need a security card to get onto the 16th floor. He passed by an office and decided he would “victimize” Charles Breitsman after seeing an iPhone, computer and TV in his office, Harper said.
They wrestled over the knife before Thaxton regained control of it and threatened to kill Breitsman, Harper said.
Lackner began speaking to Thaxton by phone about 9:30 a.m. with help from Lt. Jason Lando and Officer Ed Cunningham. Although a criminal complaint said Thaxton threatened to kill his hostage about 50 times, Lackner said he began to think it was unlikely Thaxton would hurt Breitsman because he could hear their conversations.
“He was calling him by his first name,” Lackner said. “He was saying things like, ‘Charlie and I are cool.’ I could hear Charlie on the speaker phone, and he was relaxed.”
Thaxton asked officers to shoot him several times, Lackner said, and also focused on a break-up with a girlfriend. Police played Thaxton a recorded message from her and negotiated a deal. Thaxton released Breitsman, surrendered and, once he was in custody, he saw her face to face, Lackner said.
Thaxton was unemployed and struggling since his release from a halfway house in Centre County in June, said his uncle, Parris Thaxton, 44, of State College.
“There’s stress in everyone’s life, and he just went about dealing with it the wrong way,” Parris Thaxton said. “I think it was a big cry for help.”
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Army Administrative Discharge Chapter 10, Charles Breitsman, Fort Leonard Wood Combat Engineer Training, Fort Riley, Klein Michael Thaxton, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper, Ronda Thaxton, Schizophrenia, Suicide prevention, Veterans Affairs