An Evolving Narrative in Jackson, Mississippi
September 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) — At 9:00 a.m., the news reported on what seemed like a pretty tense hostage situation in Jackson, Mississippi:
Jackson police are on the scene of a hostage situation on the city’s south side.
Police Chief Lee Vance tells local media outlets 11 or 12 people were in the rooming house at the time that the hostage situation began about 5 a.m. Thursday.
Vance say police have rescued at least six people that were in the home.
A hostage situation is dramatic news. With almost a dozen victims, it’s a big deal. Police rescuing six or more people is a relief. Based just on that, it would seem that those cops are real heroes. The good news continued too:
No injuries have been reported.
Vance says police have identified the suspect, but are not yet releasing that information.
Again, the situation seemed to be filled evidence of good police work. They saved a half dozen people, and they were on the scene. They even figured out who the suspect is, though it seemed they might have been protecting his or her identity. All of that, and without a single person getting hurt.
The whole situation had started with a 911 call:
The chief says a 911 call came from someone that was being held against their will inside the home. He says an officer responded to the address and knocked on the front door the suspect answered the knock, but immediately slammed it shut.
Police had plenty of reason to be worried. A kidnapping call is serious business. Someone answering the door and slamming it shut after seeing a cop is as suspicious as it gets. It seemed the police had gotten a dangerous situation under control.
By 9:30 a.m., though, the news released more information about the situation. There were still no injuries, and they’d removed another six hostages. The police chief said he thought all of the hostages were out of the house. He described the standoff:
He says police and FBI negotiators continue to try to resolve the situation with the suspect, who was still inside the boarding house.
Vance said students at two nearby schools were not in danger from the standoff.
It always comes back to the children, and the nearby ones were safe, apparently. Law enforcement got the hostages out safe and sound, and then they were negotiating with the kidnapper. A happy ending seemed not too far away.
But then everything went to shit at 12:56 p.m.:
Jackson police now say they are trying to figure out whether anyone was ever being held hostage in a house where they’d earlier believed a man was holding about a dozen people.
Chief Lee Vance calls the situation “bizarre.”
Bizarre indeed. If there was never anyone held hostage, then with whom were they negotiating? Whom had they identified but chose not to reveal? And perhaps most importantly, whom exactly did they rescue?
What probably really happened doesn’t make for interesting news at all:
Authorities went into the house after earlier saying only one person remained inside.
Vance said they found two people asleep and another two in the attic.
Police found two rifles, a handgun and some PCP. Police aren’t sure who the drugs or weapons belong to.
It was a house full of people, many of whom were up to no good. Someone probably did a little too much PCP and decided to call 911. “I did too much PCP and I’m freaking out” came out as “I’m being held hostage.”
There weren’t any rescues:
People began emerging from the house in small groups over a few hours.
But Vance says the people later told police they weren’t being held hostage after all.
What seemed like a feel good story about police professionally handling a dangerous situation turned out to be an expose on how either the media or the police didn’t seem very inclined to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
In the real world, there aren’t that many hostage situations. There are a lot of houses full of drugged up people doing stupid stuff. An armed hostage-taker and police bravely rescuing his victims fits a lot better in a good-guy bad-guy worldview than a den full of people making bad decisions and the police overreacting to one person on a bad trip making a false claim on the phone with 911 and another person slamming the door when cops showed up due to the fact there were drugs and guns inside.
A cop showed up concerned something bad might be going on. The person who answered the door made it worse. As police, likely in earnest, prepared for the worst, occupants trickled out in a daze and eventually admitted they weren’t hostages. It was too late, though, as it already made the news. Someone already made it seem like something it wasn’t.
The situation isn’t really that bizarre. Had the police and/or the news not initially claimed the cops had rescued hostages and been involved in a standoff with the kidnapper, it would’ve been just another ho-hum police raid on a house full of soon-to-be criminal defendants. Even the initial call to 911 from one of them isn’t that bizarre, as people who are wasted do crazy things. They regularly call the police on themselves or come up with plans so obviously stupid that it’s impossible to fathom how on earth they thought they’d avoid getting caught. It’s why the dumb criminal genre of videos and stories is a thing.
What really made the police chief think the situation was bizarre was the fact the narrative evolved past the one he wanted, cops stopping a bad guy and rescuing his victims, and into a far more common but complex one that isn’t nearly a satisfying to believe. Most importantly, we got to see at the end what actually happened.