PO Box 239, Pratt, KS 67124

Gracious Words

Recently, a criminal justice student wanted to interview both a former hostage and the hostage negotiator that affected the outcome. She chose the 1996 Focus on the Family incident, interviewing me and the negotiator (Tom). As I read her finished work, I learned things about the negotiations that were new to me. The incident began at 1:27 that afternoon and concluded that evening. It reads much quicker.

Saturday (May 2nd) was the 23rd anniversary of that incident that changed my life.

I won’t reveal Tom’s last name or the gunman’s name. Tom was a Colorado Springs Police officer for 23 years. Besides being the lead negotiator for the Focus hostage incident, he was one of the negotiators in the Texas 7 takedown just 5 years later.

Active listening skills, communication, coolness under pressure, quick flexible thinking, and empathy are required negotiator traits. Tom used all of them to establish genuine trust with the Focus gunman. He knew he could help him with his real issues given the chance but had to first resolve the immediate situation. Completely guileless Tom said, “let the hostages go and then we can talk about it.”

We were released, which allowed Tom to navigate the gunman’s substantive needs. The gunman (describing injuries he had suffered) told Tom, “I can’t even go to the bathroom, I have to go in the shower.”

Tom listened.

But as time dragged on it got hairy. The gunman fired off a round (maybe a “courage shot,” often fired before turning the gun on oneself or somebody else) and the tactical team amped up. But Tom knew he didn’t need to die. He worked hard getting him to live.

However, he laid down reality; “Worst case, people get hurt, best case, you get them to understand but you still go to jail and get help.” Then, “time is running out; this can’t go on.”

The last straw was when Tom sincerely stated, “sh*t or get out of the shower.” The gunman laughed, laid down his gun and surrendered (but only to Tom).


Think About it.

The human brain works measurably better when it is in a positive state of mind; kindness and empathy go a long way.

Tom had true empathy with the gunman; knowing he did not need to die that day.

Remember Proverbs 16:24 when dealing with the unstable or angry, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

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