JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 23-year-old gunman came into the Community First Credit Union in Northwest Jacksonville shortly after it opened Thursday morning with a dog, dog food and a gun and took 13 hostages, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
A witness told News4Jax that the man fired a shot in the air while he was at a desk with a bank employee. Police said the gunman, later identified as Nicholas Humphrey, put a gun to the heads of the hostages and threatened to kill them.
About two hours later, when two other people who had been hiding under desks made a run for the front door, a SWAT team swarmed the building and freed the hostages, taking the gunman into custody.
The hostages, seven of whom were employees at the credit union, were escorted out safely by SWAT officers. There were no injuries.
Sheriff Mike Williams said the distraction of the people who the gunman didn't know were there running to the door gave the SWAT team the opportunity to rush the gunman inside the credit union on Edgewood Avenue West.
“(SWAT) placed themselves between the hostage taker and the hostages, in essence rescuing those hostages.” Williams said. “We were able to take him into custody without incident and save the lives of those hostages.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Humphrey was booked on 13 counts of kidnapping, one count of armed robbery and one count of auto theft.
Humphrey's only previous arrest in Jacksonville was in September on a traffic offense, although he was also arrested in the Tampa area in February 2016 for domestic violence.
A man who was hiding inside the credit union for two hours described how he survived.
"Yes, it was scary," hostage Frank Brown said. "He said, 'I want the cellphones of everybody in here. I'm going to shoot them.'"
Brown said he stayed on the floor in a cubicle rather than being taken into a back room from with the other hostages.
"I know one thing ... I was not going to be led in that room and shot like a sitting duck."
Williams said the decision to enter the building was made by SWAT command as the situation escalated inside the building with the hostage taker threatening the hostages at gunpoint.
“Those guys work and train hard every single day for days like today,” Williams said. “And it paid off today. We were able to not only resolve it but resolve it peacefully through some really professional expertise to be able to make the right decision at the right time.”
Hostage situation unfolds
The situation began at 9:03 a.m. Thursday when officers responding to a reported bank robbery at the credit union and called for backup and the SWAT team.
Williams said SWAT members arrived and made contact with the hostage taker, who made some demands, including that he wanted some family members to be brought to the scene.
The motive in the hostage taking was not totally clear.
"He said he didn't want no money, so I'm thinking he's a terrorist," Brown said. "He wanted to speak to his family. He wanted his wife, his mother-in-law and his father. He wanted them to come to the bank and talk to them."
Late Thursday afternoon, Williams said it may take weeks to know for sure all the facts of the incident.
"He very well could have been trying to rob the bank; he may have been making a statement to his family," Williams said. "He may be dealing with a mental illness."
Williams said the hostage-taker let a few hostages go during negotiations with SWAT members, but continued to be uncooperative with negotiators and to threaten the people inside the bank, leading SWAT command to decide to storm the bank at their next opportunity.
Williams said the hostage taker will face charges ranging from bank robbery, to armed kidnapping and aggravated assault, depending on the outcome of the investigation. The dog was turned over to animal control.
During the incident, loved ones of those inside the bank gathered outside the perimeter anxious for any information about the people inside.
A woman who said her sister was working inside the bank said she watched, relieved, as her sister was escorted across the street by police after the standoff ended. The woman said she hadn't been able to speak to her sister yet, but that she looked OK.
“It's sad," the woman said. "You have to grab your family and let them know you love them, because you never know.”
Another woman whose sister also worked in the bank said she had been scared all morning as the situation unfolded.
“This morning I was really scared and nervous just thinking that something could have happened to her at her place of employment," she said. "Once I saw her it was a relief to know that God brought her out of this situation. Not just her but everybody who was in that bank.”
Latasha Shuman said her 18-year-old son was working in the bank, and just after 9 a.m., she began receiving calls from friends and relatives about someone being held hostage in the bank.
Just before 11 a.m., she said her son texted her to say "Mama, I'm safe."
"I'm just so relieved," Shuman said.
Shuman said her son has worked at the bank for two to three months and has never had any issues or problems at work.
The freed hostages were reunited with their loved ones and interviewed by police at a nearby library.
“It’s a blessing, just a blessing to know she’s OK," said Clara Crews, whose daughter was among those held.
“Thank God she’s OK, and everybody else is," said Tykiea Key, family of one of the tellers. "It’s a blessing.”
Brown said he'll be more prepared if anything like this happens to him again.
"I think I'm going to go get me a license to carry a concealed weapon, because if I had a weapon, there wouldn't of been none of that right there," Brown said.
Edgewood Avenue West near Lem Turner Road and other area roads remained blocked all morning. The immediate area, including nearby businesses, was evacuated during the standoff, and officers asked everyone to stay away from the bank and to not take any photos or videos of SWAT positions, as it could pose a danger.
Community First Credit Union CEO and President John Hirabayashi released a statement Thursday night on the incident, expressing his gratitude that everyone inside was rescued safely.
The credit union branch on Edgewood Avenue will remain closed until Monday as the physical damage to the building is repaired. Members can use the nearest branch at 11907 Lem Turner Road until then.
FBI bank robbery statistics
According to FBI statistics from 2015, there was 56 separate hostage situation in United States banks – making bank robberies with hostages not a common as one might think.
There were a total of 13 people held against their will at the Community First Credit Union.
When it comes to fatalities, there were nine people killed last year. In eight of the cases, the perpetrator died and in one instance a bank customer was killed.
When it comes to injuries last year, 10 customers, 35 employees and nine bank robbers were injured.
Remarkably, acts of violence were committed in only 3 percent of the 4,091 bank robberies.
According to statistics, the most common day for bank robberies is Friday, followed by Wednesday and then Thursday. The most common time for bank robberies is right when the bank opens, just like today. Last year 1,042 robberies occurred between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 933 robberies occurred between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
In most bank robbery cases a demand note is used, followed by cases where robbers demanded money and threatened others with weapons.
According to statistics, an explosive device was threatened in 108 different cases.