Standoff at Texas bank ends with hostages released

PEARLAND, Texas (AP) - A standoff at a suburban Houston bank where two masked gunmen took seven hostages and three other people hid in a closet ended peacefully Friday after a negotiation of more than four hours.

The last two hostages and the second suspect inside the Chase Bank branch left the building about 4 p.m., Pearland Police Lt. Onesmio Lopez said.

Lopez called the removal of the last gunman, accomplished with the help of a diversionary device that simulated gunfire, a successful end to a long day for negotiators.

"They talked him out," he said.

Also at the end, police brought out three bank employees who had been hiding in a closet. Lopez said police knew that the employees were hiding but never mentioned it publicly to ensure their safety.

Five hostages, including the bank manager, came out earlier, as did the first gunman.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Malford Lewis, 40, one of those released in the earlier group, had gone to the bank to make a deposit.

Lewis' girlfriend, Donetta Gardner, said she found out her boyfriend was being held when her brother, Johnnie Hicks, tried to call him on his cell phone.

"It turned out one of the bank robbers answered the phone," Gardner said. The robber told her brother, "'Don't call anymore, I'm using the phone to talk to police.'"

The standoff began at 11:30 a.m. when the gunmen entered the bank, injuring the manager when he refused to open the vault, Lopez said.

The manager was treated at a hospital as a result of the beating, Lopez said. Although shots were fired at the beginning of the standoff, no one was harmed by them, he said.

As the drama unfolded, dozens of police officers surrounded the bank, and nearby businesses were locked down.

Priscilla Medina, the manager of a fast-food restaurant, said police occupied her building after instructing her to stop serving customers.

"They told us to close it down, so we did," she said.

FBI agents from the nearby Texas City office also were on the scene, but they allowed Pearland police to take the lead, an FBI spokeswoman said.


Associated Press writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.


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