Liberty Township hostage standoff ends safely; suspect booked into jail

'He's a brave little boy,' hostage's mother says

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- The suspect in a lengthy hostage standoff this weekend was released from prison six months ago and was still under the supervision of Ohio's Adult Parole Authority, state records show.

Donald Tobias Gazaway surrendered Sunday morning, more than 30 hours after the standoff began. The 10-year-old hostage was safe.

"We didn't think, at times, we were going to get a good resolve from this," Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said. "We felt that he wanted us to shoot him at different times."

Law enforcement had been at the Springs at Liberty Township apartment complex, located off Hamilton Mason Road, since about midnight Friday. Jones said the standoff began after some kind of altercation. Gazaway was visiting a friend at the apartment. That friend -- the hostage's mother -- told WCPO she ran out to get help and left her son behind.

It all ended quietly at 6:36 a.m. Sunday, when the suspect simply gave up. Butler County officials said the gunman came outside, using the boy as a shield. WCPO's photographer saw a person with their hands up. Not long after that, numerous law enforcement vehicles left the scene.

Gazaway, 31, was booked into the Butler County Jail on charges of kidnapping, felonious assault and inducing panic. The first two charges are felonies; the third is a misdemeanor. Investigators were still working on the case, which Jones said was "evolving as we talk."

State records show Gazaway served more than four years in prison for felonious assault and a gun specification out of Hamilton County. He was released in July.

Jones and other local law enforcement gave a detailed update on what happened during a 30-hour standoff. Watch their news conference below:

 

"The way we understand it, this lady supposedly knew this individual for a couple weeks and was a friend of the family -- if you use the term 'friend' loosely," Jones said.

But the boy's mother said Gazaway was more like family, someone she's known for years and trusted. Something was different Friday night, she said: He was behaving strangely and aggressively.

"You know, he's a good person at the end of the day. It's not like I let a criminal or some stranger came into my house and held my son hostage," she said.

Neighbors at the Springs at Liberty told WCPO media partner the Journal-News she ran from townhouse to townhouse late Friday night, banging on doors and seeking safety. The woman’s blood was still visible on at least two of those doors Sunday morning.

"I opened my door upstairs because obviously I was apprehensive at that hour of somebody knocking at my door just for safety reasons, and I have my own kid," a neighbor said. "She was crying, barefooted and with pajamas only. It literally was a sad scene."

WCPO agreed to not publish the name of the neighbor because she feared for her safety. 

She said the woman told her "Help me! He’s chasing after me and he’s got a gun and he wants to kill me."

That’s when she told the woman to hold on and called police.

"I called 911 because I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t feel safe at that hour," the neighbor said. "She was waiting for me and I felt bad, but I just couldn’t open the door, I just couldn’t risk it. A thousand things were going through my mind, just to think about what could be the scenario. I mean, could it be an ambush? Could the guy be chasing after her? I mean, I’m putting my family at risk."

Listen to the 911 call in the player below. 

In a second 911 call, another neighbor said she had picked up the boy’s mother after she saw her running barefoot in the snow. Another voice, which presumably belongs to the boy’s mother, can be heard in the background.

The caller told the dispatcher a man with a gun and a face mask had taken her neighbor’s son. The hostage’s mother didn’t know who the man was, the caller said. 

Dispatcher: “Who is the man with the gun to her? Is it her baby’s father?” 

Caller: “She doesn’t know who he is.” 

Dispatcher: “He’s a stranger? He’s a stranger? Ma’am, ask her if he’s a stranger.” 

Caller: “He’s a stranger.” 

Dispatcher: “He’s a stranger? How did he get her child?”  

Caller: “He came into her house at gunpoint … he was asking her for money … he started hitting her with the gun.” 

Jones said the suspect fired nearly two dozen rounds at officers during the standoff, but nobody was hurt. Law enforcement did not shoot back, he said. Nearby apartments were evacuated.

The sheriff's office breached the front door at about 6 a.m. Saturday so officers could see what was happening and talk with the gunman. They sent a robot inside at about 7:47 a.m., then heard shots. The robot stopped working, though Jones said he's not certain Gazaway shot it.

By 9 a.m., officers saw Gazaway was using the boy as a shield, Jones said: "He wouldn't allow that 10-year-old to leave his sight. ... Any time he moved, he used the 10-year old."

The hostage and gunman spent some time inside a car in a garage. It was hard to negotiate, Jones said, because Gazaway didn't want to use the cellphone officers tossed to him. At times, he'd honk the car's horn or flash the lights.

It was the longest hostage standoff the sheriff could remember. Negotiators gave food to Gazaway and the child Saturday evening, and Jones said warming stations were set up for first responders. He didn't think his office had any prior contacts with Gazaway, whom he said was "very cautious" of officers.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "There is no contingency for this, other than we're very fortunate."

The boy’s uncle described Gazaway as a good person. He said his sister probably let Gazaway in her apartment because he’s a friend of the family, but he said the situation is “bogus” and “doesn’t make sense.” 

“I don’t know what’s really really going on mentally with him, but he ain’t the same person I used to know,” he said. “I just hope … when he gets some sleep I hope he wakes up and sees what the hell he did because this was serious.” 

More than 100 first responders were involved over the three days, West Chester Township Police Chief Joel Herzog said. His department, as well as Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit's force, gave relief to Jones' deputies. About 60 first responders were there when the standoff ended.

"Having a hostage, and especially a hostage of this age, a child -- and I can tell you that I know that, probably without exception, every officer, every operator that was out there is a parent, and a lot of those operators have their own children at home about this age -- everybody knew just what was at stake, how important this was." Bucheit said. "And I think that really helped keep these folks going through some very long hours, very difficult conditions."

Those conditions included standing outside for hours in single-digit temperatures and below-zero wind chills.

The boy's mother went with him to a hospital Sunday morning, so doctors could be sure he was OK. She was "just happy that this turned out right."

"He's a brave little boy. All he wanted to do at the end of the day was protect mommy. I think he was more concerned about me being safe versus him being stuck with the bad guy," she said.

 

She added: "Mommy won't be dating for a while or bringing any guys around my son."

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