A Florida deputy used an unusual tool to successfully negotiate a standoff on Wednesday: Facebook.
Around 11:30 a.m., Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call from Sandy Lehrke saying her potentially suicidal husband, David Lehrke, 47, had barricaded himself in a shed after an argument, according to a police report.
“David locked the door and told Sandy that he was going to ‘Do something to make the cops kill me,’” according to a police report.
Sandy Lehrke allegedly told authorities that her husband had not been taking his medications over the past month and had been acting strangely. Earlier that day, he was throwing dishes around the kitchen and when she tried to calm him, he went into the shed.
Cpl. Arthur Morrison, a hostage negotiator and school resource officer, arrived and decided to use Facebook to see what he could learn about Lehrke.
Morrison sent him a friend request and was surprised when Lehrke accepted it almost immediately. But before Morrison could send him a message, Lehrke had deleted him. Morrison tried again and Lehrke accepted his friend request and the two began sending private messages back and forth in a Facebook chat.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office released a transcript of the conversation, an excerpt:
Morrison: hey are you ok?
Lehrke: who really wants to know
Morrison: someone who wants to help you
Lehrke: i’m 47 and old dog new tricks, nah, and help how this has played out before, I don’t want to play anymore, I want to take my Ball and go home, Far away
Morrison used information from Lehrke’s Facebook page, such as his love of fishing, to keep the conversation going and establish common ground.
“In a crisis situation, a person doesn’t think about the good things,” Morrison told ABCNews.com. “We need to bring him back to why he’s alive, remind him who he is, what he likes.”
Morrison: Lying doesn’t help. I am not here to lie.
Lehrke: I can’t be helped this time it will only lead to next time. I’m damaged goods.
Morrison: I don’t believe that. I have many friends that have received help and made it through very tough times. Put me to the test. Tell me how I can help you.
Lehrke: pull the trigger so i don’t have too
Morrison: We don’t want to do that…ever…thats not how we want to remember you. I am here to help not hurt.
“We don’t want them to hurt themselves,” Morrison told ABCNews.com. “That is never a good outcome. Nothing is worth losing your life over. Our desired outcome is for him to come out and peacefully surrender so we can take him to get the help he needs.”
Lehrke was unarmed, but Morrison said that, at the time, he did not know that.
Thirty-six minutes after their first exchange, Lehrke sent his final message: “black smoke in here.”
Morrison repeatedly asked, “are you there?” and what the black smoke meant, but Lehrke stopped answering. A SWAT team could see black smoke coming out of the shed and 10 minutes later, Lehrke emerged unharmed and was taken into custody.
Lehrke had set a mattress on fire, but was uninjured. Lehrke was committed to a mental health facility for evaluation.
Morrison said that after 13 years as a negotiator, he had never thought of using Facebook to get out of a tricky situation.
“Never thought of it, never dreamed of it. I wasn’t even sure of using it this way [in this situation],” he said. “But when it happened and started, it was something we continued and it was the only way he would communicate. It’s not my choice communication, but it worked and it worked very well.”