Albany police aren't sure why Gerald Armand Thompson, 62, of Eugene, took hostages and then shot himself at Santiam Liquor on Pacific Boulevard on Monday morning, but their job of learning what was going on inside the business, and later clearing the scene, was made easier thanks to a two-wheeled robot no larger than a toy car.
At 11:24 a.m., Albany Police officers got the call, which appeared this way on their computer screens: "Male with gun. Grabbed employee. Other customers inside. He said locked the door. (Black Male) is all black clothing. face is not covered."
With that information, Albany Police Lieutenant Brad Liles said every patrol officer on duty responded, as well as members of the Linn County Regional SWAT hasty team. But the incident evolved so quickly that by the time SWAT members were assembling near the scene, just 23 minutes later, the first "shots fired" call came in.
But by then, officers had evacuated and secured the block, and team members remained cautious about the situation. When two hostages emerged from the store and told police the suspect had shot himself, negotiators made several attempts to communicate with the suspect, and then, at 12:18 p.m., deployed a robot armed with a camera in order to try and confirm the suspect was indeed deceased and also working alone. Until they could confirm the situation was defused, Liles said officers remained prepared to react to a standoff and possible gunfight.
Ultimately, the robot, called the Recon Scout Throwbot, confirmed the suspect was no longer a threat. Thompson was transported to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, where he later died.
The Recon Scout IR Throwbot, developed by Minnesota-based Recon Robotics in 2007, is a two-wheeled device, designed to be tossed through doorways, windows or wall breaches. It can withstand the impact of having been dropped from 30 feet onto concrete. Once inside, it can flip and tumble, and will always right itself and continue providing real-time video. The SWAT team has deployed the Throwbot a handful of other times since acquiring it a few years ago, according to Liles.
An investigation continues into the case. What detectives know so far is that Thompson was from Eugene, drove a green 2000 KIA Rio, and was armed with a .22 caliber revolver. There is also no indication that Thompson had any ties to the liquor store or its employees.