A gunman held his estranged wife and two other employees hostage at a Howard County savings bank office yesterday after arguing with his wife on the parking lot about his child visitation rights, police said.
The wife managed to escape through a side door, and the other hostages were released before the gunman surrendered to police officers who had surrounded the Washington Federal Savings Bank office at St. John's Lane and Frederick Road for nearly five hours.
No shot was fired, and no one was injured, police said.
Kenneth Robert Welk Jr., 33, of the 10000 block of Owen Brown Road in Columbia was charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon and handgun violations. Bail was set at $1 million last night by Howard District Court Commissioner Melvin Parker, but will be reviewed by a judge this morning.
Sgt. Gary Gardner, a spokesman for the Howard County police, said officers recovered two handguns from the bank, along with a partially empty pint liquor bottle and cans from two beers that they believed the gunman consumed.
The hostages were identified as the suspect's wife, Michele Welk, 30, a teller who lives with her mother in Ellicott City; Regina Boyce, 23, a Washington Federal customer service representative from Laurel; and assistant manager Charlotte Goldstein, described as in her 60s, of Pikesville.
Although several special tactical officers had managed to sneak into the building, they had no direct contact with the gunman before he agreed through negotiations over the telephone to surrender.
The suspect's father, Kenneth R. Welk Sr., 68, said he talked with his crying son on the telephone for more than an hour.
"I just told him to be calm and come on out of there," said Mr. Welk, who works with his son in a family plumbing firm, Welk Bros. Inc. "He said he wasn't about to hurt anybody. All that he was worried about was the police shooting him, whether he was armed or not."
Mr. Welk said police negotiators also talked to his son throughout theafternoon, offering to help him.
Police said the suspect arrived at the bank, housed in a converted gasoline station, about 1 p.m. to speak to his wife. She took care of several customers first, then walked out to the parking lot with him.
After a heated argument about his visits with their 6-year-old daughter, Mrs. Welk walked back inside. She was followed a few minutes later by her husband, holding a gun at his side, police said.
Everyone in the office fled, except for Mrs. Welk and the other two employees, who were restrained at gunpoint and kept in the lobby.
As officers surrounded and sneaked inside the building, Mrs. Welk managed to reach a side door and escape about 2:40 p.m. on the ruse of needing to use the toilet, according to witnesses and the police.
The gunman agreed to release one of the remaining women, Ms. Boyce, about 5 p.m. after police -- at his demand -- allowed reporters and camera crews to move onto a hillside overlooking the bank entrance and witness it.
He could be seen in the doorway, holding Ms. Goldstein and pointing a gun to her head. Nearly an hour later, he allowed the assistant manager to walk outside and then emerged with hands in the air to surrender.