Covered in detail on the New York Times earlier today, a hostage standoff in Pittsburgh ended without harm today after police successfully convinced 22-year-old Klein Michael Thaxton to give up peacefully. However, it’s possible that a few Facebook comments also helped encourage the military veteran to release his 58-year-old hostage. Around 8 a.m. this morning, Thaxton entered a large office building and took the elevator to the 16th floor. Thaxton entered the offices of CW Breitsman Associates, a company that handles employee-benefits programs for outside businesses, and took CEO Charles Breitsman hostage. It’s unclear if there was a previous relationship between Thaxton and Breitsman prior to this incident.
While some reports from people previously inside the building indicated that Thaxton was carrying a rifle, Thaxton was armed with a kitchen knife and hammer when he took Breitsman hostage. Police also thought that Thaxton could have been carrying some sort of explosive in addition to the firearm.
As Pittsburgh police gathered outside the building to begin negotiating, Thaxton started posting depressing status updates on his Facebook page. In one of the posts, Thaxton stated “‘this life im livin rite now i dnt want anymore. ive lost everything and I aint gettin it back.“
During the day, Thaxton attempted to reach out to family members as well. In one of the updates, Thaxton posted “welln pops youll never have to woryy about me again you’ll nevr need to by me anything no need to ever waste ur hard earned money on me. i’ll live n jail you dnt want me around anymore thats kool bye…i love u assata sis.” As the hostage situation become more public, more of Thaxton’s friends and family posted to the page in an attempt to encourage him to give up without harming himself or others.
According to Boston.com, police wanted to keep the Facebook page open at first in order to keep Thaxton talking and hoped that he would release more specific details about the situation inside the office. Regarding the use of the Facebook page, Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper stated “It helped because it let the suspect know people cared about him. It was helpful because he was focusing on Facebook rather than harming the victim.”
As the hostage situation continued, police noticed that some people were encouraging Thaxton to continue the standoff. At this point, police moved quickly to cut off his access to the page. According to Harper, the people that left those messages could be charged as accessories to the crime.
After the comments started becoming more distracting, Harper also told the local press “We would hope his friends would stop communications on Facebook, let our trained negotiators deal with this matter.”
Around 2 p.m., police negotiators and Thaxton’s mother convinced Thaxton to give up and end the public spectacle that he was watching on television within the offices of CW Breitsman Associates. Thaxton has been charged with aggravated assault, kidnapping and terroristic threats for his actions today. Breitsman was unharmed during the incident and was reunited with his family shortly after the hostage situation came to an end.