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UPDATE: Some employees kept working despite rumors of hostage crisis

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:02 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 11, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded Ted Robertson's office building Thursday holding carbines and submachine guns.

There were rumors of a hostage situation. No one knew what was actually happening.

Robertson kept working.

"There were people nervous, but we were OK," he said.

Robertson, 53, a regulatory auditor in the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, works on the sixth floor of the Governor Office Building.

One floor below, a Public Service Commission employee had reported hearing about a hostage situation over an intercom at 10 a.m. The building's alarm company was notified, and the company alerted law enforcement authorities.

Shortly afterward, Robertson said he could see police officers surrounding the building.

"We could just look out the windows," he said. "Everybody could see snipers on top of the buildings. They were out there looking at us, and we were looking back at them."

Robertson said he was reassured when he saw police officers on the ground holding military rifles. The Jefferson City Police Department, Capitol Police, Cole County Sheriff's Department, Missouri Highway Patrol, Jefferson City Fire Department and two SWAT teams were on the scene.

Even the Missouri Water Patrol had reported for duty.

"After a while, nobody seemed to be in any danger," Robertson said with a shrug.

Despite fresh memory of shootings in Texas and Florida, the mood seemed to be calm.

Throughout the day, a chopper circled the Governor Office Building and police cordoned off several blocks of Madison Street, which crosses in front of the building. The Missouri Highway Patrol set up a mobile command unit in an alleyway across the street, and law enforcement from various agencies huddled at nearby street corners.

A Cole County ambulance sat with its back doors open with a stretcher ready. It wouldn't be needed.

Mark Hughes, adviser to Commissioner Jeff Davis, was on the ninth floor. He said he hadn't considered the recent shootings at all.

"This isn't Texas or Florida," Hughes said. "The distinction is, in those places, there was the sound of gunfire. There was nothing like that in this situation. Big difference."

Hughes said police were "very professional and thorough," evacuating the building floor by floor. He was taken down a staircase on the east end of the building and identified by an officer at the exit of his floor.

Once outside, he said, police escorted workers to a restaurant down the block — Madison's — where police took their photographs, verified Social Security numbers and addresses, then released them for the day.

"I didn't see any customers there," Hughes said. "They'd taken the restaurant over."

Robertson said Madison's had a buffet ready for the workers as police were doing their interviews. It was intended for the usual lunch crowd, but there was no crowd.

After the interviews, workers were seen trickling out through an alleyway across from the Governor Office Building. Some were going home for the day. None of them had seen or heard anything suspicious.

Twenty minutes later, as dozens of law enforcement officers left the building, some employees began walking back inside. Robertson would be one of them.

By the end of the work day, when he left, the large police presence had dissipated, night had fallen, and nothing remained of the incident but two news vans parked quietly on opposite ends of the block.

Leaves hustled by the front of the Governor Office Building. Tomorrow was a holiday. Robertson had the day off.

"Just a wild goose chase," he said of the commotion, shaking his head. He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked down the street.

 


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