Hostage saga ends in Clinton office


SWAT team members take Leeland Eisenberg of Rochester into custody after a nearly six-hour hostage and standoff situation at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, N.H., on Friday

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

ROCHESTER, N.H. - A distraught man wearing what appeared to be a bomb walked into a Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign office Friday and demanded to speak to the candidate about access to mental health care. The hostage drama dragged on for nearly six hours until he peacefully surrendered.

Shortly after releasing the last of at least five hostages unharmed, 47-year-old Leeland Eisenberg walked out of the storefront office, put down a homemade bomb-like package and was immediately surrounded by the SWAT team with guns drawn. Clad in gray slacks, a white dress shirt and a red tie, he was put on the ground and handcuffed.

Clinton was in the Washington area the whole time, but the confrontation brought her campaign to a standstill just five weeks before the New Hampshire primary, one of the first tests of the presidential campaign season. She canceled all appearances, as did her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the security around her was increased as a precaution.

"Everything stopped, and it had to because we had nothing on our minds except the safety of these young people who work for me,'' Clinton told reporters shortly after the standoff ended.

She traveled Friday night to Rochester, where she thanked law enforcement officials for their help. She said she knew of no previous contact between Eisenberg and her campaign.

"It appears he was someone who needed help and sought attention in absolutely the wrong way,'' she said.

Rochester Police Chief David DuBois said Eisenberg was being held on state charges of kidnapping and reckless conduct, and that federal charges were being considered.

According to police, the drama began shortly before 1 p.m., when the man walked into the office and peeled back his jacket to reveal what appeared to be a bomb duct-taped to his chest. He took several hostages, but let a woman with an infant go immediately.

Eisenberg had a hostage call CNN three times and spoke to network staffers during the standoff, CNN reported after the ordeal was over and all the hostages were safe. Eisenberg said he wanted help getting psychiatric care, but had been turned away because he didn't have the money.

"I need to speak to Hillary Clinton,'' CNN quoted him as saying. "Something's got to change. Ordinary people need help'' with their insurance.

The network described Eisenberg as "well-spoken, articulate and impassioned about his cause'' but increasingly agitated. His third phone call was laced with profanities, CNN said.

About two hours after the man let the woman and baby go, at least one other woman escaped from the office; two other hostages made it out later, the last about half an hour before Eisenberg surrendered, police said.

Not long after the surrender, which occurred shortly after 6 p.m., police maneuvered a robot to the hostage-taker's package and triggered an explosion to destroy it.

Witness Lettie Tzizik told television station WMUR of Manchester that she spoke to the woman who was released first and that she was crying, holding the infant.

"She said, 'You need to call 911. A man has just walked into the Clinton office, opened his coat and showed us a bomb strapped to his chest with duct tape,' '' Tzizik said.

Heavily armed SWAT team members, protecting themselves with shields, called to the man over bullhorns and attempted to hand a phone into the office.

A law enforcement official confirmed to The Associated Press earlier that the suspect's name was Leeland Eisenberg, and that he was known around the town to be mentally unstable.

Authorities believe the device strapped to the man's chest was made with road flares, not a bomb, the official said.

The office, in a town of 30,000, is one of many Clinton has around New Hampshire. The campaign said the people taken hostage were volunteers for the campaign.

Eisenberg walked into the office about a half-hour before he was scheduled to appear in Strafford County court with his wife for a domestic violence hearing, according to Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover.

Divorce papers filed Tuesday indicated Eisenberg was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, domestic related, and violation of a protective order. In the papers, Eisenberg's wife said the divorce was a result irreconcilable differences and complained that he suffered from "severe alcohol and drug abuse, several verbal abuse and threats.''

Eisenberg also was arrested at least twice earlier this year, once for allegedly driving under the influence and once on two counts of stalking. The status of those cases was not immediately clear.

Eisenberg made local headlines in March when he held a news conference on the steps of Rochester City Hall to complain about a police policy of placing fliers in unlocked cars warning motorists to lock their doors.

"This is nothing more than a gimmick to get around the Constitution and go around in the middle of the night upon unsuspecting citizens in their own yard and search their vehicles,'' Eisenberg said.

Police, who said they were just trying to reduce theft from motor vehicles, changed the policy in response.

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