Hostage incident staged for news media, police say

May 17, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of the Sun

The gunman who took three women hostage at an Ellicott City bank Wednesday apparently designed the incident as a news media event, staged to ensure his safety, Howard County police said yesterday.

"Based on the analysis of our investigators, he wanted to make it a media event, even to the point of surrendering at 5:55 p.m. so he could be on the six o'clock news shows," said Lt. Daniel M. Davis, the deputy commander of the investigative bureau.

"He told us several times he had Channel 13 (WJZ-TV) on the line and was negotiating with them to provide TV coverage, and Channel 13 deferred to us," Lieutenant Davis said.

Officials at WJZ said in a prepared statement yesterday that the station has a policy of not getting involved in hostage situations.

Lieutenant Davis said the gunman came well-armed, with two handguns and ammunition, a portable television, a six-pack of beer and a pint of liquor, when he entered the Washington Federal Savings Bank at Frederick Road and St. John's Lane about 1 p.m.

Police charged Kenneth Robert Welk, 33, of Columbia with kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and handgun violations in the incident.

Howard County District Judge Louis A. Becker revoked yesterday the $1 million bail set for Mr. Welk Wednesday night and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric examination to determine whether he is a danger to himself and others, and whether he is competent to stand trial.

The hostage incident followed a dispute in the parking lot between Mr. Welk and his estranged wife, Michele Welk, a teller at the bank, over visitation rights to his 6-year-old daughter, police said.

The suspect then allegedly followed Mrs. Welk into the bank with guns, plus a television, beer and liquor in a black, vinyl bag he had taken from his late model, brown Volvo.

Sgt. Gary Gardner, police spokesman, said the gunman wanted the television cameras to move up when he released his first hostage, following Mrs. Welk's escape from the building, because "he said he wanted to ensure his safety."

He also watched the television reports on the incident, Lieutenant Davis added.

"He told our negotiators that he would be able to see it on the television news. He came out just prior to the 6 p.m. news shows, which makes us believe he tried to time it with the evening news program," the lieutenant said.

The gunman did express "a fear of getting beaten up, and we agreed to bring his father to the scene and have the television cameras close by to witness the whole thing," he added. "We did that at his request to calm him down and as a reward for releasing the next to last hostage."

The veteran police lieutenant said the gunman's use of the news media made him reflect on what influenced the televised hostage incident.

"Does reality follow Hollywood's lead, or does Hollywood reflect reality? In cases like this, it makes you wonder," Lieutenant Davis said.

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