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Gunman dead, officer wounded as Georgia hostage standoff ends

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A gunman who took four Georgia firefighters hostage, demanding his utilities and cell phone service be restored, was killed on Wednesday in an exchange of gunfire with authorities who moved in to free the captives, police said.

A police officer was wounded and the firefighters, taken hostage after responding to what had appeared to be a medical call, suffered minor injuries during the rescue at a suburban Atlanta home, Gwinnett County police spokesman Edwin Ritter told a news conference.

Officials declined to give details about what happened inside the home, and Ritter could not immediately say whether the suspect died as a result of gunshots by law enforcement or a self-inflicted wound.

"This is the result of his actions," Ritter said. "We didn't want it this way but he was calling the shots, and this was the end result."

The man, whom police have not identified, had apparently been in financial trouble and demanded his power, cable television and cell phone service be restored, Ritter said.

"He wanted all those things turned back on," Ritter said. "That's why he was holding them hostage."

Property records show the home in Suwanee, about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, is owned by Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, and a Freddie Mac spokesman confirmed to WSB-TV that the property was in foreclosure.

A SWAT unit entered the house after deciding the lives of the firefighters were in imminent danger, Ritter said.

During the rescue effort, the firefighters received superficial wounds from an explosive device used to disorient the suspect, and an officer was shot in the arm or hand, Ritter said.

The wounded officer was in good condition late Wednesday, and the firefighters had all been released from Gwinnett Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Beth Okun said.

FIREFIGHTERS CAUGHT BY SURPRISE

The firefighters, who are also trained as paramedics, went into the home to respond to what had been reported as a medical emergency, said Tommy Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department. Nothing about the initial call seemed unusual.

"This call took a different turn," Rutledge said. "They were caught off-guard. They were caught by surprise."

The hostage situation, which lasted several hours, drew dozens of police cars and fire engines to a well-groomed neighborhood of mostly two-story homes that neighbors described as safe and quiet.

Sounds of an explosion followed by a series of gunshots rattled the community as the stand-off came to an end.

"There was a giant explosion that shook my house," neighbor Wesley Gossan told CNN. "Then there was a second what seemed like a smaller one and then there was several semi-automatic gunfire exchanges. And then it was done.

"Thirty seconds later I knew everything was OK because the guys walked out. They took the hard hats off and I just assumed everything was OK."

The gunman had initially also held a fifth firefighter captive in the home but let that one leave to move a fire truck, police and fire department officials said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Steve Orlofsky, Paul Simao, Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)

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