Those who had to endure or respond to the harrowing hostage situation at a St. Cloud bank last week prevailed with courage, collaboration and cool heads.
Nine hours after it began on Thursday, all five employees held captive during the robbery had escaped or were allowed to leave, and none sustained serious injury. The suspect, Ray R. McNeary, 35, a resident of nearby Waite Park, was arrested around 10:30 p.m. without harm to himself or the officers on the scene from the St. Cloud Police Department, the FBI and other state and local enforcement. Those who handle future standoffs would do well to study the skills wielded successfully in Stearns County last week.
This was law enforcement and local leadership at its finest. The professionals who defused this delicate situation have the entire state's thanks. That includes St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, whose duties included reassuring the families of the hostages waiting in a nearby "safe zone."
"Clearly, they were sick with worry, their eyes were filled with tears," Anderson told an editorial writer on Monday. "We let them know that we're equipped to handle this ... we just reassured them that we are going to keep this thing under control."
Also deserving of praise: the bank employees who kept their heads while kept captive for hours. Outside, cheers greeted those who were allowed to leave or, incredibly, seized the opportunity to escape.
It could very well have turned out differently. That became clear on Friday as charging documents provided more details about how terrifyingly erratic McNeary's behavior became.
It began when McNeary visited a Wells Fargo Bank branch and reported fraud on his account. But the manager couldn't find an account linked to him. When McNeary became increasingly upset and allegedly demanded money, the manager activated a silent alarm. "Negotiations began almost immediately after the robbery was reported about 1:45 p.m.," according to a Star Tribune story.
During the fraught hours in which five employees were held hostage, McNeary allegedly spoke of wanting a "big show" and to "go viral." He used the hostages' phones to make social media recordings in which he threatened to kill the manager, the employees or himself.
These recordings added a grim new dimension to the updates from negotiators about what was going on inside, said Anderson, who worked in Dakota County and Carver County law enforcement before becoming the St. Cloud chief.
The professionalism that kept hostages safe and yielded McNeary's arrest was the result of training, experience and a dedication to protect the public, Anderson said. "That's what we do. And we do it gladly, and we do it selflessly. We want those folks, those hostages, to get home safely to their families."
Anderson also credited the "seamless" teamwork between law enforcement agencies on the scene, with specific praise for FBI negotiators. "My hat's off to them. We know their skill level," he said.
The negotiators' work, with the support of all involved, enabled five people who feared for their lives to be reunited with loved ones. It was the best of all outcomes, and it's important to recognize the law enforcement excellence that made it possible.