HIGH RISK FACTORS AND THE ACTION CRITERIA
G. Dwayne Fuselier
Special Agent, Inspection Division
FBI Headquarters, Washington, DC
Clinton R. Van Zandt
Special Operations and Research Unit
Frederick J. Lancely
Special Operations and Research Unit
MASTIC, NY--On Tuesday, July 18, 1989, Jimmy Hyams argued
with his 18-year-old daughter, Lisa, about her decision to
live with a boyfriend, whom he did not like. His wife stood
just outside the home with their 7-year-old daughter when
she heard a gunshot and looked in to see Lisa bleeding from
a back wound and lying face down on the floor. Hyams stood
over her with a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his
hand. He told his wife to leave, closed the door, and
initiated a 7-hour barricade incident that ended with a
Suffolk County police officer suffering from a gunshot
wound to the head, Lisa's death, and Hyam's suicide.
FORT WORTH, TX--On Tuesday, August 1, 1989, Manny Cabano
walked into the Tarrant County Courthouse, pointed a
.357-magnum revolver at Juanita Hermosillo, with whom he
had been living for the past year, and ordered everyone
else out of the building. He then walked Juanita into the
judge's chambers, ordered the judge out, and began a 7-hour
standoff that ended when he killed Juanita and turned the
gun on himself.
STOCKTON, CA--On Wednesday, August 16, 1989, at about
midnight, Dang Cha Xiong, violating a restraining order for
the third time, entered his former residence with a
revolver and threatened to shoot his wife and eight
children. At approximately 8:00 p.m. on Friday, August 18,
1989, after a 34-hour siege, Dang killed his wife, then
shot and killed himself.
These three cases all occurred within a 1-month period,
bringing them to the attention of the FBI Academy's Special
Operations and Research Unit (SOARU). Our interest was further
piqued because all of these cases involved a homicide that was
followed by a suicide. After discussing each case with the
respective police departments, we determined that these
tragedies shared some common factors. Although the three cases
were not identical, there was a sufficient number of common
factors to lead us to suggest this simple hypothesis: The number
of "high-risk" factors present in an incident is directly
related to the increased risk of a homicide being followed by a
suicide. We believe that the risk to victims in certain
situations increases when the victims are not genuine hostages.
They are, instead, intended homicides. Such targets have not
been taken hostage as a means of satisfying demands--they are
being held because the subjects intend to murder them and then
take their own life.
This article reviews the high-risk factors often present in
these types of incidents, distinguishes between pseudo-hostage
incidents and intended homicides, and recommends three criteria
to consider prior to taking action. Using the same three cases
throughout, we have attempted to demonstrate how the high-risk
factors are repeatedly found in cases of this type.
Police officers responding to hostage/barricade incidents
should be familiar with a number of high-risk factors involving
the background characteristics and behavioral patterns of the
subject, so that appropriate action may be taken. Recognizing
these factors and reacting correctly may make a difference in how
the incident ends.
In studying these cases, we realized that the subjects
shared certain background characteristics. When viewed within
the total picture, this background information could alert the
responding officers that they are dealing with a potentially
-- Subject experiences multiple stressors
In each of these cases, the subject generally feels outside
pressures, whether real or imagined. This pressure could come in
different forms--financial, family, or social pressures.
In Hyams' case, there was an ongoing battle with his
daughter about the young man with whom she was living. Hyams
believed that his daughter lacked respect for his opinions.
When he made disparaging remarks about the man, Lisa swore at
him and began to walk away. Hyams picked up the gun and shot
Manny Cabano's case is perhaps more typical. Cabano was
employed as a bail bondsman who suffered a series of losses when
clients skipped bail. This, combined with Cabano's desire to
live beyond his means, led him to the verge of bankruptcy. At
the time of the incident, he was being evicted from his home for
failing to pay the mortgage, and he was dealing with the
disintegration of his relationship with Juanita, who had filed
charges against him for child sexual abuse. All of this
overwhelmed Cabano, leading him to take drastic action.
In Dang's case, his personal life was extremely unstable.
He had no job, routinely smoked opium, and gambled with the
family's welfare money. During the year preceding this
incident, he severely punished his children when they did not
give him the respect he believed a father should receive. On
one occasion, Dang beat his 8-year-old daughter with a telephone
cord, and on another occasion, he ran a fishing line through his
10-year-old son's ears, pulling the line over a closet rod.
This forced his son to stand on his tiptoes to prevent the line
from cutting further through his ears. Dang's arrest and
conviction for these incidents resulted in the issuance of the
-- Background stresses male dominance
When we spoke with the respective police departments about
these cases, it was repeatedly stressed that both Cabano and Dang
had backgrounds that encouraged male dominance. The responding
officers believed that this factor contributed greatly to the
subjects' refusal to surrender.
During conversations with police negotiators, Manny Cabano
repeatedly stated that due to the allegations of sexual child
abuse, he had "lost face," and he could never again "hold his
head up in the community." He believed that even if he were
found innocent, he would still be called "Chester, the
molester." He also referred to his Hispanic heritage, stating
that once a man loses his respect, he has nothing left.
Dang Cha Xiong was a Laotian refugee who immigrated to the
United States after the Vietnam War. He was a member of an
ethnic group called the Hmong, who were rural farmers living a
very rustic life, typically in homes with no running water. In
Laos, they had virtually no contact with governmental agencies,
and any attempt by a government agency to become involved in
family affairs was viewed as interference. Although Dang's
actions are not viewed as being representative of those of the
Hmong, they do seem to reflect a man caught between his cultural
beliefs that a father, as head of the family, should be given
respect and should maintain discipline and the expectations of
-- Similar incidents and problems with victim
Police officers should be especially wary of a "hostage"
situation that involves a subject who has a history of similar
incidents or who has had previous problems with his "hostage."
Also key in the incident is whether the subject is holding either
a person with whom there has been a romantic involvement or who
is a family member, and whether there have been previous
restraining orders issued against the subject for either child or
In May 1960, Jimmy Hyams' first wife, pregnant with their
second child, left him and was living with her mother. Hyams
followed her there, and when she refused to let him in the
house, he broke down the door and put a gun to the head of their
1-year-old son. When his wife pushed the gun away from the
boy's head, Hyams beat her with his gun, kicked her, shot her
three times, and kidnaped her. After a high-speed chase, he
barricaded himself in a farmhouse. When police stormed the
house 3 hours later, Hyams shot himself in the stomach. His
wife and unborn child survived; Hyams served a 2 1/2-year prison
term. He remarried in 1963, beginning a tumultuous relationship
that included repeated assaults on his second wife and their
children. When his wife attempted to hide from him by going to
a motel, he found her, handcuffed her, beat her with a gun, and
raped her in front of the children. He was arrested and served
a 4-year prison term. He was released on parole under a court
order to stay away from his wife's residence; however, in May
1974, he entered her residence and held her and the children
hostage for 13 hours before surrendering. While serving another
prison term, he was divorced. He married his third wife in 1981.
In 1988, Manny Cabano was living with Juanita Hermosillo
and her five children by a previous marriage. The relationship
was turbulent, and she eventually filed charges of child sexual
abuse against him. She later withdrew the charges, but a year
later, the relationship again soured and Cabano moved out.
Hermosillo again filed charges of child sexual abuse, resulting
in an arrest warrant and a court order restraining Cabano from
entering her (Hermosillo) residence. Within hours of being
informed of the charges and the restraining order, he entered
the Tarrant County Courthouse to confront Hermosillo.
Approximately 1-year prior to this incident, Cabano had
barricaded himself, Hermosillo, and one of her children in the
bedroom, threatening to kill them and himself. A coworker of
his ex-wife convinced him to end the siege before the police
In yet another incident, Dang held his wife and another
woman against their will in a barricade incident that lasted
approximately 3 hours. Dang was well-known to Child Protective
Services in Stockton, California. He had been arrested three
times and convicted once on child abuse charges. In July 1988,
he was sentenced to 300 days in jail, ordered to take a
parenting course, and was forbidden to enter the family home.
He was released from jail after serving 7 months, but was again
arrested in January 1989, for returning to the home. In July
1989, Dang was arrested for entering the home and threatening to
kill his wife and children. He was released on bail on August
7, 1989, and he killed his wife 11 days later.
-- Lacks family or social support systems
Individuals who are involved in these types of incidents
many times lack family or social support systems, leaving them
with no emotional outlets. This adds to their feeling of
alienation and desperation.
During the incident in Mastic, Hyams received a phone call
from one of his daughters, and after speaking with her, he told
the negotiator, "That was my daughter. For the first time in
the 9 years I'm out [of prison], she gives me a... call." A
short time later, again talking to his daughter on the phone,
Hyams said to her, "You never gave me a chance." To which she
replied, "I gave you a chance and you ruined it twice. You
shot [your first wife] and her daughter and now you're back in
the same situation with this one. You shot another daughter--you
Due to his convictions for child abuse and the restraining
order, Dang was also alienated from his family, spending the
last few weeks of his life sleeping and eating in a car outside
of his uncle's house. The fact that he spoke no English further
Subject's Behavioral Patterns
Studying the subject's behavioral patterns may also give
officers more insight into the type of incident with which they
are dealing. Certain behavior from the subject could alert
officers to the fact that they are responding to an incident
that may not be resolved easily.
-- Forces confrontation with police
In these cases, the subject forced a confrontation with the
police rather than merely shooting the victim and walking away.
One theory is that the subjects hoped that they could initiate a
"suicide by cop."
In all probability, Hyams shot his daughter as an impulsive
act, but having done that, he ordered his wife out of the house,
retained his gun, and waited for the police to respond. When
the responding officers arrived, he fired at them before they
were able to make verbal contact with them. Hyams held the
police off for over 7 hours while his daughter bled to death.
All the while, Hyams reassured the officers that she was alive
and that he was caring for her.
After ordering the judge from his chambers, Cabano simply
sat waiting for the police to respond. He, like Hyams, wanted a
confrontation with the police.
-- Subject threatens or injures victim
In each of these cases, the subject discussed minor demands
with negotiators. However, the victims were not being used as a
means to achieve another goal, such as obtaining money or to
escape, but were, instead, the primary target of the subject's
After he shot his daughter, Hyams called the police officer
who had convinced him to surrender in the 1974 incident. Hyams
also spoke on the phone to his family, but he neither presented
conditions nor made any demands that could be met in exchange
for his surrender or the release of his daughter.
After forcing Juanita at gunpoint into the judge's chambers,
Manny Cabano demanded only two bottles of soft drinks and to
make a statement to the media. He was unwilling to discuss
releasing Juanita in return for these demands.
After threatening his wife and children, Dang's only demand
was to be left alone with his family until the following Monday,
when he was scheduled to appear in court to answer charges of
violating the restraining order. This was only delaying what
Dang knew was the inevitable.
-- Subject verbalizes intent to commit suicide
The subjects in this type of incident will generally
verbalize their intent to commit suicide before actually
following through on their threats. They may also attempt to put
their affairs in order or give a "verbal will."
When Hyams failed to appear for work, his boss called him to
ask whether he was ill. Hyams described to his boss what he had
done, told him to replace him at work, and said that he was
"...sorry for the way it's gotta end." He later told the
police negotiator, "...but if I feel myself going down, I'm
putting a bullet in my head, because they're not gonna recuperate
me...if I feel like I'm gonna go, I got the gun in my hand, and
I'm putting it to my head."
Hyams also asked the negotiator to tell his wife that "I
loved her, only I had too many obstacles against me." Later he
said, "I want you to tell [my wife] that I'm sorry. I loved her
with all my heart and soul. I tried, and I tried hard."
Just before entering the courthouse, Cabano gave away his car and
a large amount of money. During the incident (unbeknownst to the
negotiators), he called his ex-wife and told her to remove [some
items] from his safe and destroy them because he would not need
Approximately 12 hours into his barricade incident, Dang
called an acquaintance to the scene so he could repay a $50
debt. Just before he shot his wife and committed suicide, Dang
showed his 10-year-old daughter where he had hidden $500.
PSEUDO-HOSTAGE INCIDENTS AND INTENDED HOMICIDES
The term "hostage" has typically been defined as "a
person held for the fulfillment of demands." To assist in
distinguishing between true hostage and pseudo-hostage incidents
and intended homicides, we propose expanding this definition to
read, "A person held and threatened by a subject to force the
fulfillment of substantive demands on a third party." In these
incidents, the victim is clearly being threatened by the
subject, and the threats are used to influence a third party,
usually the police. When there are clear threats or there is
actual injury to the victim but the subject makes no substantive
demands to a third party, the risk to the victims should be
considered to be very high. Officers should be aware that this
is not an incident that is likely to end in a peaceful
Hyams, Cabano, and Dang each threatened or actually injured
their victims but made no substantive demands. Despite the
efforts of the negotiators, these demands could not be tied to
the release of the victims. The hostages were not being used as
bargaining chips to obtain something else.
There are other times when an incident lacks threats
directed toward the victim and no substantive demands are made.
Although law enforcement officers may believe that they are
dealing with a hostage situation, what they actually have is a
pseudo-hostage incident. For example, a husband threatens his
wife with a handgun, and she runs to a neighbor's house to call
the police. When officers arrive, she advises them that their
1-year-old son is in the house with her husband. When they
contact the husband, he informs them that he is angry with his
wife, this is not their concern, and they should go away and
leave him alone. He makes no demands, and he does not threaten
the safety of his son. In this case, the absence of both
substantive demands and threats toward the child, coupled with
the absence of other high-risk factors, should be an indication
to the responding officers that the risk to the son is probably
ACTION CRITERIA IN DECISIONMAKING
A key question when managing hostage/barricade incidents is
when to authorize a tactical intervention to rescue the hostage.
While it is impossible to determine the exact likelihood of
surrender, it is reasonable to conclude that as the number of
high-risk factors increases, the chance of a negotiated
resolution decreases. There is, however, an important
difference between a decreased chance for surrender and no
chance for surrender. We are not suggesting that a negotiated
surrender is impossible or that the on-scene commander should
immediately authorize an assault--there have been cases that
have been successfully negotiated even though some of the
high-risk factors were present.
For example, in February 1990, in Montgomery County,
Kentucky, John Delay became distraught when he lost a custody
dispute. He pulled a gun during a meeting with his wife and son
and a social worker, threatened to kill them and then himself,
and demanded that police put down their weapons and come into the
room to speak with him. Police negotiated with him from outside
the room, and after about 3 hours, he released the hostages and
Even when a substantial number of high-risk factors are
present, the risk to hostages and law enforcement officers might
be judged to be even greater if the rescue attempt involves an
assault. On the other hand, if there is only one subject and a
"risk effective" (1) tactical option (the positives outweigh the
negatives) is available, that option might be considered earlier
than it would be in a situation without these factors.
The personnel of the Special Operations and Research Unit
developed the concept of "action criteria" to assist in making
any command decisions. An affirmative answer should be made to
three key questions prior to any critical decisions being made.
Is the Action Necessary?
Why is a particular action being contemplated? Is the
on-scene commander responding to either internal or external
pressure to "do something"? If it is still early in the
incident, might this action be more successful at a later time?
Why is the action being contemplated at this time? If it was
rejected 12 hours ago, is it being reconsidered now because the
on-scene commander is feeling pressure to resolve the incident,
even though there has been no change in circumstances?
Is the Action "Risk Effective"?
Although any hostage rescue involves some risk, an objective
appraisal of the likelihood of casualties to both victims and
law enforcement officers must be made. Suppose, for example,
one victim is being held by a subject who is armed with an
automatic weapon in a location with only one entry point
available. The tactical team leader estimates that it will take
10 to 20 seconds to enter the stronghold. No external diversion
is possible, and should he decide to do so, the subject would
have time to shoot the victim and still confront the tactical
team. The negotiation team leader believes, based on the
subject's past history, that if assaulted, the subject will open
fire rather than surrender. In this situation, surely a
dynamic entry would not reduce the risk to the hostage; instead,
it would substantially increase the risk to both the hostage and
the officers entering the stronghold.
Is the Action Professionally Acceptable?
Is the action being taken both legally acceptable and
professionally ethical? Usually, the legal aspect is the
easiest to resolve, while the ethical and moral considerations
may be much more difficult. For example, in August 1988, an
8-month-old boy swallowed a balloon, cutting off his air supply.
The child, who had severe brain damage, was in an irreversible
coma and had been on life support systems for over 8 months.
According to doctors, he had little chance of ever regaining
consciousness. In April 1989, the boy's father, armed with a
handgun, entered the hospital room, ordered the medical
personnel out of the room, disconnected the life support
equipment, and held his son in his arms, crying, until his son
In this case, one option might have been to shoot the
father in order to prevent the son from dying. That action may
have been legal, but the ethical considerations in such an
action make the decision much more difficult.
The risk to victims in a hostage/barricade incident can
vary considerably, depending on either the presence or absence
of many factors, including those discussed in this article.
That perceived risk, as well as the risk involved in a
particular tactical option, should be the primary considerations
in an on-scene commander's decision to authorize a tactical
action. Before any decisions are made, the on-scene commander
should evaluate the presence of high-risk factors, consider all
other intelligence available, and combine this information with
the assessments made by both the negotiation and tactical teams.
This combined information will assist the commander in
differentiating between a genuine hostage situation, a
pseudo-hostage situation, and an intended homicide incident.
Any contemplated action should be reviewed in the context of the
action criteria prior to a final decision being made.
Reviewing the high-risk factors in a hostage situation is a
new approach to reacting to these types of situations. Armed
with this information, on-scene commanders will be better
equipped to evaluate the incident and make the most appropriate
decision in these high-risk situations.
(1) Donald Bassett, "Confrontation Management," Special
Operations and Research Unit, FBI Academy, 1988, (unpublished