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Storming the bus

Our "prison" with coats/scarves hanging in front to block SWAT's view of us.

I waited seven hours to see the SWAT team storm a city bus. Unfortunately, they did it during the two minutes I was in the Command Post bathroom.

I kid you not.

That disappointment aside, my morning as a volunteer hostage was pretty interesting.

The scenario was that three men had robbed a nearby McDonald’s and when chased by the cops, one ran onto a city bus, and the other two went into a school. So, the SWAT team and negotiators had to be split, though in reality we were all on the same piece of land.

I volunteered to be in the bus, thinking I’d have a good view of what was going on. Except for the end when all the action happened—le sigh—I did.

The most surprising thing I learned was how slowly things move in a standoff. When the SWAT team is called out, this isn’t a quick thing. It takes time for them to arrive, coordinate, set up, get snipers in position, bring out a command post, get a hostage negotiator on scene, fire up the robots…

If you take a group hostage, expect to be there a while. Don’t drink too much, and be patient. Better yet, surrender.

Our "spy" with the "delivery boy" in the background

The other thing that surprised me is how much I wanted the negotiator to just give the gunman what he wanted. I also really, really didn’t want to be onboard when the SWAT team stormed the bus. Even though I know they’re good at what they do, I couldn’t help thinking the whole scene—four of us crammed in the back, three acting as shields for the guy with two handguns—could turn into a blood bath with innocent casualties.

After several hours on board, watching robots spy on us and listening to the one-sided phone conversations where demands were generally not met (either by design or miscommunication), the gunman agreed to exchange me (the “pregnant” lady who had to pee) for a throw phone, since his cell was low on battery.

I followed another hostage to the door so he could get the phone, and he let me out. He also slipped out at the same time, leaving only one hostage behind.

I expected the SWAT team to storm the bus almost immediately–which is why I didn’t take advantage of the bathroom facilities when I initially found out about them–but when they did board, it was quick.

They attached a giant hook attached to a truck to rip the door (which had been handcuffed shut) open, boarded, and took down the gunman with multiple shots. The hostage was unhurt, despite standing right next to him.

When it was all over, the SWAT team, EOD team (who provided the robots), hostage negotiators, and others involved sat through a debrief where they talked about lessons learned.

What did I learn? (Besides the fact that I never want to be a hostage for real?)

Next time volunteer to be in the school.

This hook is at least 3 feet long, and heavy.

The aftermath

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Wow, what a cool experience. I”m sure those who have been in a real hostage situation would disagree with me, of course. But what an awesome way to get an inside view of such a situation. And hats off to the men and women who risk their lives for real in order to bring situations like this to the best ending possible.

    So what’s up next for you? Planning a fake bank robbery? Tracking down a “fugitive”? Whatever it is, I can’t wait to read about it! 🙂

    • Reply

      Maura: It really was cool to see how it works from the inside, while still knowing I was safe. You can be sure whatever’s next, I’ll blog about it. 😉

  2. Reply

    I’m sure it would be scary as all get out if it were real but what a cool experience. Certainly gives you a leg up on that ‘write what you know’ adage 🙂

    I agree with Maura, “And hats off to the men and women who risk their lives for real in order to bring situations like this to the best ending possible.”

    • Reply

      Raelyn: I originally went through the Citizens Police Academy to make sure I could write police interactions more accurately, but I found I really enjoy being involved with the department.

      And I’m with you and Maura. The dedication and professionalism of the people I’ve met within the department is inspiring. Real life heroes, every one.

  3. Reply

    I’m sure you were taking detailed notes on how a hostage (you) felt in this situation. You have so much first hand experience and insight for a slew of books! I’m with Maura, I can’t wait to see what you get to do next!

    • Reply

      Ha, Kathy, I was too busy taking pictures of the spy robot! 😉 They were making fun of me for that. But yeah, it was good first-hand experience that I’m sure will work its way in somewhere. Thanks!

  4. Reply

    Your first two sentences leave me speechless. 🙂 You know? Such a life metaphor.

    My grandson went dear hunting yesterday. All day he waited. Then decided to move to a “better” spot. As soon as he settled in his new location. Yep. Over there.

  5. tony


    New buses there in Fairfax have a SWAT switch in the back. Will wake the bus, set the brakes, open the doors and turn on the interior lights. No more hooks!!!

  6. Reply

    “If you take a group hostage, expect to be there a while. Don’t drink too much, and be patient. Better yet, surrender.”


    This was major cool to read about! 🙂

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