WILMINGTON, DEL. - A Delaware Department of Correction employee was found dead after a hostage situation that spanned nearly 20 hours, according to a news release issued by the state Thursday morning.
The employee, identified only as a man, was "found unresponsive upon entry" to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, said Jayme Gravell, a spokeswoman with the Department of Correction. He was pronounced dead at 5:29 a.m., according to the department.
The other hostage, who has only been identified as a woman, was safely rescued and is receiving treatment at a local hospital, Gravell said.
Delaware State Police entered Building C, where the hostage situation occurred at 5:06 a.m., according to the release. Gravell said Building C is secured and the Department of Correction continues to operate under emergency procedures.
Building C where the hostage situation occurred has been considered secure and the Department of Correction continues to operate under emergency procedures, Gravell said.
At 10:38 a.m. ET Wednesday, a corrections officer made a radio call for immediate assistance from the Building C Tier B, which houses about 125 inmates. The prison near Smyrna, Del., was put on lockdown at that time, said State Police Sgt. Richard Bratz.
Perry Phelps, the new commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction, who was confirmed just two weeks ago, said at a Wednesday evening news conference that the radio call activated the Department of Correction Emergency Response team because staffers were taken hostage.
Among the inmates' demands were prison reforms and better living conditions.
Phelps then said that earlier reports of five staffers being held were incorrect. Only four staffers were taken hostage. One officer was released at 2:25 p.m.; at 5:25 p.m. eight inmates were released; and just before 8 p.m., another staff member and 19 inmates were released. On Thursday at about 12:30 a.m., 14 more inmates were released.
In a statement Thursday, Delaware Gov. John Carney said: "I'm praying hard for the fallen officer's family. This serves as a tragic reminder that members of law enforcement risk their lives every day on behalf of the people of Delaware. We will stand by the fallen officer's family and fellow law enforcement officers during what is an extremely difficult time.
"This was a long and agonizing situation," he continued. "I want to thank all those involved in responding, including officers at the Department of Correction and the Delaware State Police, as well as our federal partners. Our priority now will be to determine what happened and how this happened. We will hold accountable anyone who was responsible. And we will make whatever changes are necessary to ensure nothing like it ever happens again."
The remaining hostage, identified as man, was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 5:29. Building C is secured #netde— Brittany Horn (@brittanyhorn) February 2, 2017
As first light reflected onto Vaughn Correctional Center buildings Thursday, numerous emergency vehicles began to leave a side access road to the prison that was restricted to the public.
The principal office at the main entrance to the prison, which appeared mostly vacant overnight, also lit up at dawn. Employees arriving for work entered the building. Many then peered out of its windows at the mass of news vans and cameras stationed in a parking lot.
Television stations broadcast aerial video of several inmates facedown somewhere in the facility.
Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal tip line received a call from a woman who said her fiancé is an inmate at the Smyrna-area prison and was being held hostage. Then, a man’s voice was patched onto the line, and he said he was asked by hostage takers to relay demands to The News Journal.
"I'm just doing what I'm being told to. I'm just trying to help, ma'am," the man told a News Journal reporter. "They just need somebody to hear their demands." The man would not give his name because he said he was instructed not to.
The demands came in the form of a manifesto or decree and mostly called for prison reforms.
"Improper sentencing orders. Status sheets being wrong. Oppression towards the inmates," the voice continued.
A second call came from a woman who said her son was in the prison and was being held hostage.
"We’re trying to explain the reasons for doing what we’re doing," one of the voices on the call said. "Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he’s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We got demands that you need to pay attention to, that you need to listen to and you need to let them know. Education, we want education first and foremost. We want a rehabilitation program that works for everybody. We want the money to be allocated so we can know exactly what is going on in the prison, the budget."
The News Journal turned over the audios to police and prison officials.
Robert Coupe, head of the state's Homeland Security Department, said that the prisoners' demands would be addressed after the situation was resolved safely, "then dialogue can occur."
Coupe would not comment on the motives of the prisoners, saying they were working through the negotiation process. "The focus of the investigation will be how this happened."
At the news conference Wednesday night, Delaware Gov. John Carney said, "We are using all the resources we have to bear to get our employees out." He stressed that the focus of the day was on the safety of the corrections officers.
According to the Department of Correction website, the prison houses minimum-, medium- and maximum-security inmates, along with Kent County detainees awaiting trial. It also is the site of the state's death row and where executions were carried out until the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in August that the state's sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. The prison opened in 1971.
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