Trained law enforcement officers and negotiators apprehend the vast majority of criminals. Sometimes, though, a civilian steps in and makes their job much easier. Let’s look at four citizen heroes who helped negotiate high-profile surrenders.
1. Sergeant-at-Arms Earns His Title
A body’s sergeant-at-arms has the duty of keeping order during its meetings. On May 7, 1984, one Canadian sergeant-at-arms went above and beyond his normal responsibilities. That morning, 25-year-old Denis Lortie, a supply corporal in the Canadian Forces, stormed into the National Assembly of Quebec dressed in fatigues and armed with two submachine guns. Lortie opened fire and quickly wounded 13 others in an attempt to destroy the ruling Parti Québécois.
Lortie had originally targeted Quebec Premier René Lévesque, but his timing was off. Lévesque had not yet arrived at the Assembly building, but the Assembly’s sergeant-at-arms, René Jalbert, was on the scene. Jalbert, a retired army major, approached Lortie and said, “I see you're an army man. I'm an army man myself.”
Jalbert gave Lortie coffee and a cigarette and calmly asked the gunman to come into his office to discuss what was bothering him. Amazingly, Lortie agreed. The retired major and the disgruntled corporal spent the next four hours talking, and Jalbert eventually convinced Lortie to talk to a police negotiator. When Lortie finally surrendered to military police hours later, the media hailed Jalbert as a hero. He modestly replied, “Every sergeant-at-arms across Canada would have done the same thing."
2. Japanese Soldier Finally Gives Up
The story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who refused to surrender following the end of World War II, sounds like something from a bad movie. Rather than laying down their guns, Onoda and a small group of comrades hid in the jungles of the Philippines for decades following the war. They refused to believe that Japan had really lost the war, and the men even launched small raids on Filipino villages and farms.
Onoda and his brethren assumed that any news of the Japanese defeat was merely a ruse to trick them into surrendering. By 1974, Onoda was the last remaining member of his cadre, and he still maintained that he would only surrender to his old commanding officer, a Major Taniguchi. Until then, he would keep carrying out his original orders of destroying infrastructure while evading capture and surrender.
Since Onoda was still actively waging a guerilla war in the Philippines, the Japanese government tracked down the officer, who by that point had been a bookseller for years. The government flew Taniguchi to the Philippines, where he officially gave Onoda the order to surrender. Onoda turned in his sword, his still-functioning Type 99 rifle and 500 rounds of live ammo, and several grenades.
3. Georgia Mom Stays Cool
Brian Nichols’ escape from an Atlanta courthouse was major national news in March 2005. Nichols, who was on trial for rape at the time, overpowered the deputy who was guarding him, locked her in a cell, and took her gun. Nichols then murdered the presiding judge in his trial, a court reporter, and a sheriff’s deputy while escaping.
Nichols immediately became the target of a massive manhunt, but he managed to elude capture for an evening and kill a federal agent while stealing his car. Very early the next morning he took Ashley Smith hostage in the parking lot of her apartment complex and forced her back into her apartment. Nichols bound Smith while he took a shower, but the young mother didn’t lose her composure.
Smith later recounted that she complied with Nichols’ demands while also trying to connect with him on some deeper level. Smith talked to Nichols about her five-year-old daughter, read to him from the Bible, and watched news reports about his escape. Gradually, Nichols seemed to feel at ease around his hostage, and he eventually put away his weapons.
The next morning, Smith asked Nichols if she could leave the apartment to visit her daughter. When he agreed, Smith left and called 911. Nichols ended up surrendering to police outside of Smith’s apartment.
Smith’s calm thinking and ability to develop a rapport with Nichols helped save her life while ending Nichols’ crime spree. It also netted her quite a bit of cash. Thanks to various agencies’ bounties for Nichols’ capture, Smith pulled in $70,000 in reward money for aiding in the arrest.
4. TV Priest Helps Nab Drug Lord
Up until his death in 1992, Rafael Garcia Herreros was arguably Colombia’s most famous Roman Catholic priest. As the host of the nightly television program “God’s Minute,” he had the nation’s ear.
He also had the ear of feared drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. In 1991, Escobar was Colombia’s most wanted man, but authorities weren’t having much luck convincing him to surrender. Enter Father Rafael Garcia. When Escobar kidnapped a group of journalists, the 82-year-old priest began ministering directly to the drug lord during his show. Eventually, Father Rafael Garcia met with Escobar and broke the story that Escobar was releasing two hostages.
Eventually, with the priest acting as an intermediary, the Colombian government and Escobar worked out a surrender agreement. In exchange for giving himself up, Escobar would receive a light sentence in a luxurious prison built to his specifications. More importantly for Escobar, he wouldn’t be extradited to the United States.
In late May 1991, Escobar formally offered to surrender to Father Rafael Garcia. On announcing the news, the priest said of Escobar, “He is tired of hiding and he believes that Colombia can judge him with wisdom and justice.”
Escobar, of course, only remained in his cushy prison for a little over a year before escaping.