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Man Kills Himself After Holding Wife Hostage Six Hours At Convenience Store

January 12, 1986

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Spectators cheered when a man distraught over his impending divorce turned his gun on himself outside a store after holding his wife hostage for six hours and fatally shooting one store employee and wounding another.

Thomas Edward Stephens, 40, killed himself Saturday minutes after his wife, Pat Stephens, sneaked out of the store and fled to safety, police spokesman Jim Willett said.

″He was on the phone with our hostage negotiator when his wife saw an opportunity and snuck out the front door. He didn’t know she was gone until she was gone,″ Willett said.

″It’s undisputed that the whole thing was over their domestic problems,″ Willett said.

Stephens, who had been served with divorce papers Friday, walked outside the convenience store, pointed a pistol at his head and pulled the trigger about 6:30 p.m., Willett said.

Spectators gathered nearby cheered and clapped when they heard the gunshot.

Stephens’ suicide was carried live during television station KXAS’ 6 p.m. newscast. The station had cut to a camera at the store, thinking the crisis might be coming to an end, said news producer Jack Trammell. After the newscast, KXAS co-anchor Mike Snyder apologized to viewers.

Mrs. Stephens, 37, the store manager, was taken hostage when Stephens walked into the building wearing a ski mask and armed with a .357-caliber Magnum, Willett said. Customers fled, and some said they heard gunshots.

Store clerk Terry Palmer, 30, of nearby Mansfield, was shot twice in the abdomen and and was dead on arrival at Arlington Memorial Hospital, said spokeswoman Carlene Ness.

Mrs. Stephens recently had moved in with Ms. Palmer, and police believe Stephens blamed Ms. Palmer for initiating the idea of a divorce, Willett said. Another store employee, Craig Talley, 25, of Arlington, was reported in fair condition with arm, leg and foot wounds.

After a 31/2 -hour standoff, the man allowed two police officers to enter the store to remove Talley and Ms. Palmer. Willett said Talley had been ″playing possum,″ pretending to be unconscious.

″We suspect they were not random victims because he (suspect) paid absolutely no attention to the customers in the store, and he became very irate when he discovered the man (Talley) was not dead,″ Willett said.

″He was very upset about the victims being in the store. He wanted them out of there,″ said Arlington Police Chief David Kunkle.

Kunkle said the man ″was extremely irate, profane. He was making comments that he wished he’d killed the man (Talley).″

Talley later told police that Stephens had said he knew ″police would get him and he didn’t plan on living,″ Willett said.

Police trying to talk to Stephens at times were stymied because a telephone in the store was off the hook and later rang for almost an hour before he answered. At one point, Stephens allowed his wife to call her parents, Willett said.

Late in the afternoon, the gunman moved out into the front part of the store dragging his wife by her shirt, but both returned to a storeroom where he was not visible from the outside.

Moments after Mrs. Stephens escaped, Willett said, Stephens ″came out yelling,″ ran back into the store, then came out again, put the gun to his head, and killed himself.

Police said Stephens had been at an alcohol rehabilitation center for the past two months, commuting daily to his job at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport where he was a baggage handler for American Airlines.

Willett said Stephens walked away from the North Texas Alcohol Rehabilitation Center in Denton, 35 miles north, Saturday morning. He visited his son at an Arlington residence about an hour before he went to the store. The son was not identified.

Elsewhere, a man firing a submachine gun held his ex-wife hostage Saturday in Miami for the second time in a week and wounded the woman’s brother and a policeman before surrendering.

″It’s one of the roughest hostage situations I’ve seen in 10 years,″ Metro-Dade Police Cmdr. William Johnson said after the six-hour standoff ended. ″Everytime somebody moved, he shot. He was shooting freely.″

And in Michigan, a 74-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease held his wife hostage for five hours Saturday at their home in Barton City, shooting and wounding her and two sheriff’s deputies before police charged the house and captured the gunman, authorities said.

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