Coal Tower Standoff Continues

The standoff continues. Gunman Craig Nordenson has been holed up in the old coal tower since 7:00. After I put up the previous story, I headed over to the scene. Here’s what I saw.

I’m not totally certain of what has happened this evening, but I’m fairly sure that the saga is not yet over. At 11:30pm, I walked through the chill night from my First Street apartment to the Belmont Bridge, where I expected to find a large crowd of fellow gawkers. Instead, I was greeted by just two fellows and a view of a lit-up coal tower a few hundred yards away. The possibility of being picked off by a desperate gunman crossed my mind, but my companions agreed that it was unlikely with his 9mm handgun.

Water Street and Market Street were barricaded by police cars and ambulances, though the Lexus Law Publishing building prevented a view of most of the action. At the late hour, few cars drove across the bridge, but those that did stopped to inquire as to what we were staring at. Our group grew as the minutes ticked by, all of us staring at flashlights playing off the cement cylinder. By 12:00am, a helicopter thumped overhead and began to circle, playing its floodlight across the area. Our little group was now ten people strong, with several cars parked on the bridge, their drivers rubbernecking in the comfort of their own vehicles. Soon a sweatpants-clad middle-aged man came along, toting a video camera and a handheld scanner. His son was a police officer, he explained, and he was not sure if he was among those on the scene.

The scanner made the distant scene considerably more interesting. Shortly after 1:00am, it became clear that officers had positioned men inside the tower, and intended to bring in a mediator in an armored car. Should that fail, they planned to fire in tear gas to force him out.

Given the layout of the tower’s levels, it seemed quite unlikely that police could proceed safely beyond the first level. There was simply no way for them to climb to the next level undetected. The helicopter had left to refuel. The plan was for the officers to move in as soon as the helicopter returned with its spotlight, bringing in the mediator and then the tear gas, should it be necessary.

Our group of thirty was forced off the bridge around 2:00am, shortly after the helicopter showed up. The police wanted to secure the entire area, making it impossible for observers to watch the impending action. Two of us, seeking a line of sight, headed up the Market Street parking garage. From the top level, in the far corner, we could just barely see the tower.

At 2:13am, it happened. A shot was fired. Twenty seconds later, another shot. Though it was difficult to see, we could detect no tear gas coming out of the structure. Two minutes passed, and then two more shots separated by twenty seconds. Again, we couldn’t tell what had happened. The helicopter sped up its frantic circling, and the swarms of police cars in the area seemed to move with a sense of urgency.

Then the parking garage closed at 2:30, and we left. Knowing that I’d been defeated, I headed home for dinner.

Has Nordenson been killed? Did he shoot at the officers? Was that tear gas? I have no idea. No doubt by morning, all will be known. Perhaps the standoff will still continue, or perhaps it will all be over. But for now, I’m a bit baffled.

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