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1 hostage freed, 2 still held at gunpoint inside rural Louisiana bank

1 hostage freed, 2 still held at gunpoint inside rural Louisiana bank
CNN
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Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 9:40pm

(CNN) -- One bank employee was freed, while two of her colleagues remained held at gunpoint Tuesday night inside a rural Louisiana bank, as a slew of law enforcement manned positions and worked for a peaceful resolution.

The woman's negotiated release came about eight hours into the standoff at Tensas State Bank's branch in St. Joseph, Louisiana, a town of about 1,200 people in northeastern Louisiana.

State Police Col. Michael Edmonson described her going free as a "positive," while noting that the situation remains tense and dangerous.

"It's a fluid, active scene," Edmonson told reporters around 9 p.m. (10 p.m. ET). "We still have two hostages in there."

The ordeal began around 12:30 p.m., when a 20-year-old man entered the bank branch in St. Joseph with a handgun, apparently intent on robbing it, according to officials.

For whatever reason, he ended up staying there and taking three bank employees, two women and one man, hostage.

Edmonson said he wasn't sure "what statement (the suspect) was trying to make or (if) something ... just went bad," adding there was "no reason for him to want these particular individuals in the bank."

Born in California, the hostage-taker moved with his family to northeastern Louisiana, where his family owns a convenience store, Edmonson said. The Mississippi River community of St. Joseph -- which is located about 35 miles south of Tallulah, Louisiana, and 35 miles north of Natchez, Mississippi -- is the parish seat of Tensas Parish, which has about 5,000 people.

After word got out about the hostage situation, local, state and federal law enforcement agents descended on the quiet community.

Law enforcement agents have been able to talk to the hostages. They also spoke with the gunman, who Edmonson said "has made some demands of us." He did not elaborate.

"We're walking through those, we're trying to talk to him very calm," the police colonel said. "... We believe (the hostages) to be safe. We know him to be armed."

Authorities were interviewing the freed female hostage, according to Edmonson. They'll also provide "food and provisions" for the other two captives, as well as the man holding them.

"We're going to stay here as long as it takes," the police colonel said. "Our No. 1 goal is to make sure that those (hostages) come out of there safely, and (we'll do) whatever it takes to do that."

Authorities shut down part of the road where the bank is located in St. Joseph, but otherwise all traffic in the town is moving, said parish homeland security spokeswoman Jane Netterville.

She denied rumors that there may be explosives involved, saying "there are no confirmed bomb threats at this time."

Edmonson said he talked to, and prayed with, relatives of the hostages and that some of the suspect's relatives have tried to approach the area.

Asked earlier Tuesday by CNN what she'd tell the gunman, Netterville said, "I would say, 'Let the people go, just let them go.'"

"'Don't harm anyone. Whatever your situation is, you're better off if you just let the hostages go and then let us deal with you, in whatever way we'll deal with you.'"

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