Jail crisis ends
Women intercede in hostage drama
Herald Staff Writer
ST. MARTINVILLE, La. -- A six-day hostage crisis at St. Martin's
Parish Jail ended
Saturday night after two women from Miami -- one of them the mother of a hostage-taker
-- met inside the jail with the hostage takers.
With tears streaming down her checks, Mercedes Villar, 52, the
mother of inmate
Roberto Villar-Gana, said the six hostage-takers had been promised safe
passage to Cuba, where President Fidel Castro had agreed to accept them.
''It's over,'' said Villar, who flew in from Miami on Saturday
to help mediate an end to the
crisis. ''They're on the bus now and going to Cuba. They're going to an airplane and going
to Cuba -- Havana. I'm happy. I'm happy.''
Charles Mathews III, FBI special agent in charge, said the hostage
siege ''was ended
with a negotiated surrender of the hostage takers and the release of all seven'' hostages
at 10 p.m. Saturday. Speaking at a press conference, he refused to provide any details
of the deal or confirm that the inmates had been promised a flight to Cuba.
Villar said she had spent 30 minutes with her son in the jail
and he was fine. ''Everybody's
good,'' she said.
She was accompanied on the jail visit by Maggie Garcia of Miami,
who had dated
Villar-Gana before he was arrested. Garcia, 29, said the two women were
accompanied to the warden's office by officials and heard an unnamed FBI agent
read out a letter that said ''Fidel Castro agreed to take the six prisoners and it
named each one.''
Sheriff Charles Fusilier said two of the freed hostages, Warden
35, and deputy jailer Jolie Sonnier, were taken to a hospital after being freed. He
said the warden showed no signs of physical abuse and ''seems to be all right.'' A
first sign of the resolution came when SWAT teams that had stood by during the
tense standoff came out of the prison late Saturday, high-fiving and whooping.
When asked, ''Is it over?'' they nodded and went off.
Earlier Saturday, security forces clandestinely cut through jailhouse
remove the last 54 inmates on the sidelines of the uprising -- leaving the five
Cuban and one Bahamian prisoners holding the final seven hostages in a revolt
against U.S. immigration policy.
At about 3:30 p.m. the Immigration and Naturalization Service
bused away the
inmates who had been surreptitiously removed, leaving only the hostages and
their captors in the two-story facility.
FBI Agent Mathews said law enforcement officers had cut a hole
in an internal
wall of the jail to remove the 54 prisoners. Otherwise, removing them would have
required parading them past the warden's office, where the six inmates were
holding the remaining hostages.
''We made a door,'' St. Martin Parish Sheriff Charles Fuselier
said. ''We didn't
want any activity taking place that would cause concern and heighten anxiety
With the other prisoners gone, dozens of black-clad SWAT team
parish sheriff's police surrounded the facility, many lurking in the shadows of
trailers, cars and ambulances strewn around the downtown jail compound.
Clearing the jail was made possible by Thursday night's surrender
of two of the
original hostage takers. The two, who also freed Deputy Brandon Boudreaux, 20,
had controlled the jail's main command center and thus much of the second floor.
Moving out the other prisoners also cleared the way for any plans
to stage an
assault on the warden's office -- and focused full law-enforcement attention on the
negotiations. Earlier, there were split concerns: containing and relocating other
inmates who may have had the freedom to roam the jail from Monday night
through most of Thursday, and the FBI-INS negotiations with the hostage holders.
The warden's office, where the remaining hostages were held on
the second floor
of the building, has a window looking into the rest of the jail, but no outside
Nor does it have a restroom. Law enforcement officials said it
does have a closet,
which was equipped with a five-gallon bucket. The door to the office has not been
opened, which seemingly would be necessary for the bucket to be emptied.
The FBI's Mathews said hostage negotiators spoke with the hostages
''All appear to be doing as well as expected after 35 hours''
of being confined, he
Six of the hostages were women, including five prisoners and deputy
Sonnier. The seventh was Warden Louvierre.
The hostage holders included a Bahamian ex-con also facing deportation;
apparently joined the revolt after the initial uprising.
Unlike the others, Villar-Gana, whose mother showed up Saturday,
was not under
deportation orders. He was serving a state sentence after being convicted of
attempted first-degree murder of a police officer.
INS officials said he had previously been detained by the service.
Of Villar-Gana's mother, Mathews said: ''One of the detainees'
mother is here with
us and has been as helpful as possible. Her contributions are fully voluntary.''
Villar-Gana was first identified as a hostage holder Friday in
a list issued by the
joint law enforcement command center. Three lists of hostage-takers, sometimes
with different names, have been released by police during the crisis.
At the beginning of the siege, the INS had 72 detainees in the
160-bed parish jail.
Those bused away Saturday were taken to other prison facilities, INS
spokeswoman Amy Otten said. She would not name them.
Hundreds of Cuban detainees are in legal limbo across the country,
jailed in local,
state and federal prisons because they were convicted of crimes and lost the right
to stay in the United States. Their plight is raised in regular migration talks
between U.S. and Cuban diplomats in New York and Havana, but Cuba remains
unwilling to take them back.
Attorney General Janet Reno, who oversees the FBI and INS as head
Justice Department, has been monitoring the standoff constantly, law
enforcement officials said.
But Otten, the INS spokeswoman, said that contrary to reports,
Reno at no time
took charge of the situation.
Day six of the siege brought torrential rains. But FBI Agent Kriss
the FBI agents, hostage negotiators and SWAT teams that have lurked around
the jail since the siege began were holding up, despite the adverse conditions.
''This is very difficult and stressful on everyone involved,'' she said.