Gunman kills self; three victims escape unharmed
GARDNERVILLE — A hostage situation at Carson Valley Pharmacy in the Stratton Center began Friday afternoon with the theft of two guns and ended just over an hour later with the armed man apparently taking his own life.
Two hostages and a woman hiding in the store escaped unharmed.
According to Douglas County Sheriff’s Information Officer Tom Mezzetta, officials know the identity of the gunman but had not released his name as of press time.
Mezzetta said the department received a 911 call about 3:28 p.m. from Wayne’s Gun & Pawn Shop that a man had just stolen a .45-caliber handgun and a shotgun and left in a green van. As the man left the store, he informed a clerk he was going to the Stratton pharmacy to get prescription drugs and would “use violence” if law enforcement officers interfered.
A phone call to the Stratton Center pharmacy confirmed a man was holding two hostages, Mezzetta said. Within minutes, sheriff’s department and Nevada Highway Patrol officials surrounded the strip mall, diverted traffic on U.S. Highway 395 between Cemetery Road and County Road, and evacuated people from surrounding businesses.
Early reports said there were four hostages and two had been released. The latter two were customers who left the store when they saw the man enter with a gun.
The two hostages were store employees, including the center’s owner and pharmacist, Dan Stratton, and an unidentified female employee. It was later determined that a third person, a female customer, was hiding.
During the incident, several warning shots were fired by the gunman, but Mezzetta could not confirm how many shots or where they were aimed.
As the hostage situation unfolded, people gathered just outside the secured area in offices and behind walls, some stranded because their cars were parked inside the secure area.
Nikol Agnason cradled her sick 2-year-old son outside her vehicle parked in a car wash across the street. Fifteen minutes before the incident she had dropped off a prescription. When she returned to pick it up, a woman arrived just ahead of her in a white Subaru and started to go through the pharmacy door.
She turned around and “grabbed me by my arm and said ‘Don’t go in there. There’s a man with a gun.’ Then she said, ‘Oh my,’ and ran to one of the businesses (to call 911).”
As Agnason got back into her car, patrol cars came flying by.
The white Subaru remained parked in front of the pharmacy during the incident.
Agnason, who has been shopping at the pharmacy for 20 years, would like to identify the woman who pulled her away from the door.
“If she hadn’t been there I’d have been inside,” she said. “That would really have been horrible if I had gone in.”
The gunman sent Stratton outside about 4 p.m. to retrieve cigarettes from his van.
“Officers did not let him back in,” Mezzetta said. Instead, officers called the store to negotiate throwing them into the door. Gunshots were fired inside the store toward the floor.
As a special weapons team positioned itself, the gunman went into a back room and committed suicide, Mezzetta said.
In the meantime, officers stormed the front of the building and the remaining hostage and woman in hiding ran out the front door with officers. The gunman was confirmed dead at 4:52 p.m., according to Mezzetta.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and Nevada Highway Patrol responded in large numbers to the incident. Mezzetta said both day and swing shift patrol units aided officers along with two watch commanders, administrative staff and Sheriff Ron Pierini.