The walls started closing in on Lauren Brown long before he barricaded himself inside his Suwanee home with five captive firefighters.
Unemployment, chronic illness, child support bills, disconnected utilities, strife with his ex-wife who lived across the street, and the recent death of his mother all combined to back the 55-year-old man into a desperate corner from which he did not emerge. Gwinnett County police, who said Brown refused to negotiate, shot and killed him Wednesday evening after storming into his house to rescue the firefighters he had held hostage for almost four hours.
A SWAT officer who was shot in the forearm while exchanging gunfire with Brown remained in the hospital Thursday to undergo surgery, but four firefighters who were hospitalized with minor injuries were released. Officials declined to release their names.
More details emerged Thursday about Brown’s tumultuous personal history and the events police said he’d planned for weeks and set in motion, leading to the fatal shootout.
Brown had a hearing scheduled for April 16 in Gwinnett Superior Court because he was in arrears on his child support by more than $9,000. He had a $1,382 per month payment.
A spokesperson for Wells Fargo also confirmed that the bank was foreclosing on Brown’s house at 2440 Walnut Grove Way, near Collins Hill and Taylor roads.
Brown had other long-standing financial problems. He owed Capital One Bank nearly $5,000 and a default judgment was entered in 2008. That same year, his wages were garnished for child support and an IRS lien.
Brown had two children, a 20-year-old daughter in college and a 17-year-old son in high school, who grew up across the street from him with their mother, Debbie Marie Dixon.
Court records show he had stormy relationships that sometimes erupted into violence. He was accused of stalking his ex-wife, who in 2001 alleged that he had slammed her hand in a folding chair and twisted her arm backward. A restraining order was issued.
Dixon, who was married to Brown for 10 years, said in court records that her ex-husband “stalked and harassed” her, calling her “at all hours.” And her husband accused Brown of threatening him in 2002.
Brown dated Terri Sizemore and then allowed her live in his house, paying her to do housework and run errands. Sizemore alleged in 2009 that during an argument, Brown threw some of her clothes into a brush fire they were tending. She was burned trying to save them, yet she declined to press charges or seek a restraining order. Sizemore told police that Brown’s aggression was “due to prescription medications.”
Brown started an eviction process against Sizemore in 2009, and she countersued, saying he owed her $9,000 for various expenses. Brown had a similar living arrangement with another woman, and in 2008 he moved to evict her from his home.
Sizemore, reached by phone Thursday at her home in Asheville, N.C., said Brown became overdependent on prescription medications because he suffered from fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, memory and mood issues.
“He was a difficult person, but also had a very big heart,” Sizemore recalled. “He could be very giving.”
Until recently, Brown worked part time from home as a computer programmer for IBM, Sizemore said.
She said Brown was “very, very close” to his mother, Maggie Jones Brown, who died in July at age 89.
County deed records show Brown’s mother owned the house he lived in. Brown’s mother often served as his financial safety net, according to Sizemore, stepping in to pay bills.
Gwinnett police and fire officials held a press conference Thursday to release new details about the ordeal, which started after Brown faked a heart attack to draw the firefighters to his home Wednesday afternoon.
Firefighters first encountered Brown in his bedroom, lying in bed. Minutes later, he pulled a gun and took them hostage.
He relayed commands to police through a firefighter who radioed emergency dispatchers during most of the standoff. His initial demands were that a firetruck and ambulance in front of his house be moved, that power be restored to the house, that his cellphone be reactivated, and that his Internet and television service be restored.
The accounts had been deactivated for nonpayment, police said.
Each demand was accompanied by a deadline. One of the firefighters was freed to move the vehicles, and police complied with his other demands, said Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters.
Brown then demanded that wood and tools be brought to his house to board his windows and doors. He also demanded fast food.
“The fact was, we were not going to board up his house,” Walters said. “That was just not going to happen. At one point, he said something about ‘wait for the next surprise I have for you,’ or something along those lines. We felt there was not going to be any further progress.”
SWAT officers then hatched a daring rescue plan.
A SWAT team officer approached the house under the guise of delivering the Captain D’s meals Brown had requested. At the same time, officers used an explosive device to enter the home, and concussion grenades to distract Brown as they entered.
Brown opened fire on the first officer to enter the bedroom, striking him in the forearm. That officer returned fire and killed Brown.
Walters said police entered when they did because it seemed Brown’s demeanor was growing more volatile. He continually refused to release the hostages or have any conversations with police that didn’t address his demands.
Brown had ordered the firefighters gather chairs, rope and tape to bind them. He told them he’d planned the event for several weeks and targeted firefighters because it would be easier to take them hostage, Walters said.
Brown also expressed a desire for his family to witness what was happening, the police chief said.
“His demeanor and his communication, or lack of communication … indicated the time was now,” Walters said.
Police found six guns in the house. Sizemore said they were heirlooms from his father.
One observation she made about Brown’s personality was particularly chilling in light of the disclosures police made Thursday.
“He was a planner, although he often didn’t follow through,” Sizemore said. “He liked being in control.”
Timeline: April 10, 2013
3:41 p.m. Gwinnett County 911 Center receives a call from Lauren Brown at 2440 Walnut Grove Way in Suwanee stating he is having chest pains.
3:48 p.m. Five EMT/firefighters from the Gwinnett County Fire Department arrive at the residence. Brown is found in his bedroom, lying in bed, and seems to be suffering from a condition that restricts his movement.
3:54 p.m. Brown produces a handgun and holds firefighters at gunpoint.
4:05 p.m. The first officer arrives on the scene and, three minutes later, the SWAT team is activated.
4:07 p.m. Brown releases one hostage to move the firetruck and ambulance from in front of his house. He demands that his power, cellphone, Internet and television service (which had been deactivated for nonpayment) be restored.
5:15 p.m. Brown demands officers bring wood and tools and board up his windows and doors. He gives police a deadline of 7:30 p.m. to accomplish this.
6:30 p.m. Brown demands food be delivered for himself and the hostages.
7:30 p.m. A SWAT officer approaches to deliver food as a diversion while, at the same time, rescue teams enter the house. Brown refuses to drop his weapon and fires at the first officer to enter the bedroom, striking the officer in the forearm. The injured officer returns fire, striking and killing Brown.
* Information provided by Gwinnett County Police Department
Police released more details about the standoff during an afternoon press conference.
Police continued gathering evidence at the crime scene. The investigation could take months to complete.
The unidentified police officer wounded in the shootout remains hospitalized.
All four firefighters were released from the hospital.