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Old Time Crime: Longest prison hostage standoff in U.S. took place in Buckeye in 2004

Posted at 2:33 PM, Jan 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-14 21:23:56-05

The longest prison hostage standoff in U.S. history kept tensions tight for two weeks in Buckeye, Arizona in 2004. 

A Botched Escape: 

It was January 18, 2004, when prison inmate Ricky Wassenaar was mistakenly buzzed into the tower at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye. When the door opened, he attacked correctional officer Jason Auch with an industrial-sized stirring paddle from the kitchen. 

Correctional Officer Lois Fraley retaliated against Wassenaar but was overpowered and struck with the paddle as well. Auch remained unconscious most of the first day.

Wassenaar was soon joined in the tower by inmate Steven Coy. 

Heavily armed officers and deputies swarmed the facility and prevented the escape of the two felons. 

The Inmates:

Wassenaar was an inmate kitchen worker serving a 28-year sentence for armed robbery and assault, while Coy was serving a life sentence for sexual assault, kidnapping, and theft. The two were cellmates at one time and started planning an escape three years before the standoff. 

Wassenaar injured an officer in the kitchen using a homemade knife and got possession of the paddle and his uniform. Dressed in the uniform, he deceived Auch and was let into the tower. Using the paddle and shank, he overpowered him, gaining access to his gun. 

Wassenaar came out of the tower firing

Coy remained in the kitchen area. As other officers tried to detain him, Wassenaar came out of the tower firing several shots with a rifle, giving Coy an opportunity to run into the tower. 

In addition to the two hostages, three others were injured in the foiled escape. 

A New Home: 

The tower would become home to the two inmates and two hostages for the next two weeks. 

Two days had gone by before they put the hostages on the observation deck as proof of life as they negotiated for food. 

At one point, while on the phone with negotiators, the hostage-takers focused their aggression on Officer Fraley. They took Fraley's finger and placed it in a bracket that was holding up the ceiling cover of the tower. Fraley screamed as Coy pressed on the bracket, threatening to sever her finger. Wassenaar told Coy to stomp on the bracket, and negotiators then promised to deliver food.

Coy and Wassenaar took great care in protecting themselves. One of them always held the hostages at gunpoint if the other needed to put himself in direct line of sight to the snipers. 

They also, at times, used the hostages as human shields.  

A Partial Agreement is Reached:

On day four, a negotiated agreement went awry at the last minute, and the standoff continued. 

Finally, the next day, Auch was released. 

He climbed down the ladder of the three-story tower and was set free in exchange for packages requested by Wassenaar and Coy. 

"I said goodbye to everybody"

Auch was also able to deliver a message from Fraley to her daughter and family, "You tell them I love them. No matter what happens, I love them," Fraley said. Fraley would later tell ABC News that she never expected to get out alive saying, "I said goodbye to everybody." 

Over the next 11 days, Wassenaar and Coy received food -- mostly pizza, burgers, and chips -- but they gave Fraley little to eat. She would end up losing 30 pounds during the ordeal. 

She spent her time in prayer, looking at a picture of her daughter and listening to news reports. 

The Standoff Ends:

"I took my family for granted, and I will never do that again"

On February 1, while the world watched the New England Patriots beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl, a deal was reached. 

Wassenaar and Coy surrendered and released Fraley in exchange for being transferred to out of state prisons. 

Wassenaar would eventually be transferred to a prison in Wisconsin, near his home state of Michigan. Coy was sent to a prison in Maine. Both were given additional life sentences related to the standoff. 

All three walked down the tower stairs, with the inmates throwing down their weapons when they got to the yard. 

Fraley was taken directly to a hospital where she saw her daughter for the first time in two weeks. 

She would later say, "I took my family for granted, and I will never do that again."