Man takes hostages at savings bank in Ellicott City


A gunman held his estranged wife and two other employees hostage at a Howard County savings and loan office yesterday after arguing with his wife on the parking lot about his child visitation rights, police said.

The wife managed to escape through a side door, and the other hostages were released before the gunman surrendered to police officers who had surrounded the Washington Federal Savings and Loan office at St. John's Lane and Frederick Road for nearly five hours.

No shot was fired, and no one was injured, police said.

Kenneth Robert Welk Jr., 33, of the 10000 block of Owen Brown Road in Columbia was being held by the police last night.

Sgt. Gary Gardner, a spokesman for the Howard County police, said officers recovered two handguns from the savings and loan office, along with a partially empty pint liquor bottle and cans from two beers that they believed the gunman consumed during the afternoon.

The hostages were identified as the suspect's wife, Michele Welk, 30, a teller who lives with her mother in Ellicott City; Regina Boyce, 23, a Washington Federal customer representative from Laurel; and assistant manager Charlotte Goldstein, age unknown, of Pikesville.

Although several special tactical officers had managed to sneak into the building, they had no direct contact with the gunman before he agreed through negotiations over the telephone to surrender.

The suspect's father, Kenneth R. Welk Sr., 68, said he talked with his crying son on the telephone for more than an hour.

Mr. Welk said police negotiators also talked to his son throughout the afternoon, offering assurances they would help him.

According to police, the suspect arrived at the savings and loan, housed in a converted gasoline station, about 1 p.m. to speak to his wife. She told him she had to take care of several customers first, and she then walked out to the parking lot with him.

After a heated argument about his visits with their 6-year-old daughter, Mrs. Welk walked back inside. She was followed a few minuteslater by her husband, holding a gun at his side, police said.

Everyone in the office fled, except for Mrs. Welk and the other two employees, who were restrained at gunpoint and kept in the lobby.

As officers surrounded and sneaked inside the building, Mrs. Welk managed to reach a side door and escape about 2:40 p.m. on the ruse of needing to use the toilet, according to witnesses and the police.

The gunman agreed to release one of the remaining women, Ms. Boyce, about 5 p.m. after police -- at his demand -- allowed camera crews and reporters to move onto a hillside overlooking the bank entrance and witness it.

He could be seen in the doorway, holding Ms. Goldstein and pointing a gun to her head. Nearly an hour later, he allowed the assistant manager to walk outside and then emerged with his hands in the air to surrender.

Police said they believed that both of the gunman's weapons were loaded when he entered the bank and that he removed the bullets from them before surrendering, leaving the guns behind.

Sergeant Gardner said the gunman agreed to come out because the negotiators assured him he would be treated fairly.

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