A nearly three-hour lockdown of the UN headquarters ended peacefully when an apparently mentally distraught mystery man holding a gun to his throat in front of the complex surrendered to police.
The incident on Thursday “ended calmly” and the man was taken into custody by New York police, said Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The man, who was from Florida and had no criminal record according to police, did not make any political demands or shout slogans and was apparently seeking the proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
“It was an opportunity for him to get the attention he needed and it worked,” New York First Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said at a news conference near the site of the standoff.
It was not a terrorist incident and police could not find any plausible reason for his action, he said.
He said that during negotiations with police the man wanted some papers handed over to the UN and when he was assured that it would be done, he laid down his shotgun and surrendered.
“I would suggest that it is fair to say that he had some issues and we sent him through to the hospitals,” he said.
A review of the documents showed that they were mostly medical papers and “didn’t have any specific meaning” or were “related to terrorism”, Tucker said.
The man pointed the gun at his throat and never aimed the gun at the police, he said.
Police said the bomb squad checked the hotel room he stayed in and his pickup truck but did not find anything threatening, Tucker said.
Police have not disclosed the man’s name.
While the nation was tensed up after the latest incident of a mass shooting that happened at a school on Tuesday and terror threats around the world, the man was noticed with a gun in front of the UN headquarters near the main staff entrance pacing outside along the display of member nations’ flags.
He did not try to enter the UN compound or threaten anyone.
Immediately UN security ordered a lockdown and asked staff, diplomats and journalists to stay in place.
Police rushed in and closed off the area.
A tank-like armoured police vehicle was brought in and a police negotiator talked to the man from it.
The man, who wore a red jacket, held aloft a red folder with “EHR” written on it. told the negotiator that he would put down his gun if police would take his documents and give them to the UN, Tucker said.
When the negotiator agreed, he surrendered.
The police were faced with a delicate situation as they could not let him shoot anyone nor could they themselves take him down pre-emptively because it was right in front of the UN, an international organisation devoted to peace.
“These events unfold and they can go in very different directions at any given time,” Tucker said.
“The way the situation was handled, it makes me proud,” he said.
The IANS office desk inside the UN secretariat could not be accessed during the lockdown.
The path from the IANS correspondent’s apartment complex across the avenue from the UN headquarters was blocked off by police during the standoff.