Gunman surrenders after holding mail carrier hostage

Saturday, February 1, 2003

MIAMI -- A botched robbery turned into a nationally televised five-hour police chase and hostage standoff Friday when a gunman forced a mail carrier to elude officers in her postal truck as he sometimes fired shots at them.

Officers eventually used spikes to flatten the truck's tires after a 90-minute pursuit through city streets. Heavily armed SWAT team members surrounded the truck but the gunman held carrier Tanya Mitchell captive for two hours before releasing her unharmed.

The gunman, identified as 38-year-old Nevia Abraham, surrendered about an hour later.

"We were in constant communication with the subject," Miami-Dade County police chief Carlos Alvarez said. "He was just rambling, he wasn't making any demands."

Mitchell was delivering mail Friday morning when a woman called police to say two suspicious men were following her car, Detective Randy Rossman said.

When officers arrived, they found Abraham and a second suspect breaking into the postal truck. Abraham got inside and forced Mitchell to drive away, police said. The second man, Jonathan Hamilton, 47, tried to run away but was arrested. Police said Abraham was armed with two guns.

Federal, state charges

Alvarez said Abraham would face federal and state charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. Hamilton is facing armed robbery charges, he said. He said they were being interviewed by Miami-Dade investigators and then would be turned over to federal officials.

Dozens of police officers chased the truck with Mitchell at the wheel as it slowly drove through residential neighborhoods, sometimes stopping so that the gunman could talk to bystanders. Witnesses said the gunman knelt behind Mitchell apparently giving her directions, his weapons at the ready.

The Rev. Marc Cooper gave his cell phone to the gunman when the postal truck stopped next to him, hoping that police could communicate with the man.

"I knew that if there was no communication back and forth between the police and the suspect that this could go on all day and all night," he told WSVN-TV.

Cooper said Abraham "didn't seem agitated, he didn't seem nervous."

Cooper said his secretary called police to let them know the gunman had his phone. She also tried calling the man to "pray with him," but she only received the phone's voice mail.

When the truck hit main streets, Mitchell would obey red lights and the speed limit, occasionally darting around traffic that got in the way. Sometimes she would make U-turns, heading back past pursuing officers. Police blocked cross-traffic to keep the truck's path unhindered, and 48 Miami-area schools were locked down. TV helicopters flew overhead, broadcasting the chase to the nation.

"I was watching the news, and my cousin Joe kept calling me, saying,'That's Tanya, that's Tanya,'" her father, Lewis Leon, told WSVN. "I was hoping, 'No, that's not her.'"

Finally, officers threw spikes onto the road, flattening the two left tires. The truck stopped in an intersection and was surrounded by black-helmeted, rifle-toting police officers. The standoff began.

The gunman used mail to partially block the windows. Eventually, a robot was used to hand a phone through the passenger window.

Police negotiator Michael Laurent talked to the gunman, who seemed to have his emotions under control, Alvarez said.

After about two hours, Mitchell climbed out of the back of the truck, walked a few steps and then ran to officers.

"She showed incredible bravery and was amazingly calm for all she has been through," said Enola Rice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service's South Florida district, who talked to Mitchell after her release.

After Mitchell's release, the gunman became agitated and police said he began to talk about suicide.

"It got a little hairy," Alvarez said.

An hour after the hostage was released, the gunman backed out of the truck, his hands over his head. He walked backward to awaiting officers, who handcuffed him, put him in a patrol car and drove him away.

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