CHARLESTON - A State Law Enforcement Division agent who called an Army buddy to wish him a Merry Christmas instead found himself on the phone with a hostage taker, authorities said.
The agent, whose name was withheld by SLED, called his friend Jimmy Oliver on Wednesday afternoon. Oliver was one of three people being held hostage at a post office in Wytheville, Va., and it was the hostage taker who answered Oliver's cell phone.
The SLED agent recognized the urgency of the situation and used another phone to call a SLED captain, SLED communications director Jennifer Timmons said in a statement Thursday. The captain got on the phone with authorities in Virginia.
The standoff began at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after a man with an artificial leg pushed his wheelchair into a one-story post office in the mountain town in western Virginia.
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Shots were fired soon after the man entered the building, but no one was injured and at least two of the hostages were able to call family or friends.
Suspected hostage-taker Warren "Gator" Taylor, 53, of Sullivan County, Tenn., was arraigned Thursday on kidnapping and other federal charges. The hostages were released unharmed after about eight hours Wednesday, and Taylor surrendered without incident.
The SLED agent talked with Taylor several times during the standoff, Timmons said.
"Since this is an ongoing investigation," the statement said, "specific details of the conversations between the agent and Taylor cannot be released. However, the two established a rapport and discussed common knowledge about the military and explosive devices."
After one 30-minute conversation, the SLED agent, Oliver and local authorities were able to persuade Taylor to release the hostages. He eventually surrendered peacefully.
SLED Director Reggie Lloyd commended the SLED agent and captain for their quick thinking in a stressful and dangerous situation.
"We are proud of their exemplary work that was done completely by the use of a telephone," Lloyd said in the statement. "They truly put their years of law enforcement expertise to the test. My well-wishes are also extended to Mr. Oliver for his hand in helping to calm the situation."
Timmons said Oliver had gone to the post office to mail Christmas presents to his two teenage sons. The SLED agent and Oliver had been in the Army together in 1993. She said the agent and Oliver talked after the standoff and again Thursday morning. Both were looking forward to spending a peaceful holiday with their loved ones, she said.
The agent has been with SLED since 2001 and has been in law enforcement for 13 years.
Federal officials said Taylor was angry at the federal government and told them he had planned the standoff for months or years.
Oliver told The Associated Press that Taylor told him he picked the small-town Wytheville post office at random because he was driving through the Blue Ridge Mountain town and it reminded him of Gatlinburg, Tenn., a tourist destination three hours away.
"He was really down on the government," Oliver said Thursday in an interview at his mother's floral shop. "About the government taking over the right to bear arms ... he was angry at the government over taxing us."
Oliver said the man told the hostages his son had died in Afghanistan two months ago, though that could not be immediately confirmed. He also said he was dodging attempts to repossess his red pickup truck.