Gunman takes hostage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Staff Writer

Employees of the Pike County Courthouse stood by Monday morning as one of their own was held at gunpoint.

About 30 minutes after the courthouse offices opened, Charles Kelvin Johns, 41, of Brundidge entered the building armed with a handgun and took a female security guard hostage.

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A little after 8:30 a.m. Monday Johns reportedly walked into the courthouse, put his keys down and walked through the metal detector.

Since he had a 32-caliber revolver, the metal detector sounded, but the security guard had no time to react before being grabbed, eyewitnesses said.

He grabbed her, put the gun to her head and ordered her to the Pike County Probate Office.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said Johns was demanding to see the probate judge and the security guard did the right thing in not fighting the subject.

"It was a very tense situation," Thomas said. "She did an excellent job. She was upset, but calm. That was very important in us being able to talk him out."

Thomas said the situation was "very intense" from the beginning because the courthouse had only been open for business about a half hour.

Johns has been charged with kidnapping, first degree. Other charges are possible, Thomas said.

As of press time, bond had not been set.

Courthouse employees were surprised and upset over what happened and pointed out Johns was someone they had tried to help over the past several months.

"There has been some concern, in the past, involving this man," Probate Judge Bill Stone said of Johns.

According to Stone, Johns’ point of contention was centered around land ownership. For several months, Johns has been researching land he believes he is entitled to own.

Pike County Revenue Commissioner Curtis Blair has also encountered Johns in the past, but nothing as serious as what happened Monday morning across the lobby.

"I hate it came to this," Blair said. "He needs some help."

Although all the activity was in another department, some of Blair’s employees witnessed the incident. One of the women who works in his office was standing near the security guard when Johns grabbed her at gunpoint.

"It scared them over there; it scared us over here, too," Blair said.

"All my staff was visibly upset," Stone said, adding the Pike County Sheriff’s Department acted quickly to bring the situation under control.

"They were here momentarily and took him into custody in a matter of minutes," Stone said.

Thomas and Capt. Doug Wheeler located Johns and negotiated with him inside the probate office.

"We negotiated for some time," Thomas said. "We removed the security guard from the probate office and took him into custody."

Thomas said a revolver, fully loaded with live ammunition,

was taken from Johns. He said it was important to take the weapon from Johns without anyone being hurt.

Two things were key to the incident ending peacefully, the sheriff said.

"We were able to make eye contact with him and the second, was he communicated with us," Thomas said.

"Our first concern was her safety," he said of the security guard. "You don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t predict it. You continue to communicate and hope for the best."

The sheriff said Johns was "very determined" and believed what he did was what he should have done.

"We had a very bad situation that could have been worse," Thomas said.

Johns did not legally possess the handgun. A pistol permit application made a few months ago was denied because of a past felony conviction.

Officers from the Troy Police Department also responded to the incident.

Because of what happened Monday morning, the county is changing its security policy.

Monday night, Pike County Commissioners agreed county employees will have to wear their identification badges at all times and will be required to go through the metal detectors and, if necessary, hand-held scanners.