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Hostage standoff in Puerto Rico ends

A hostage-taker in Puerto Rico freed a woman Thursday after Gov. Sila Calderon negotiated her release.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A hostage-taker put down his knife and freed a woman Thursday after Puerto Rico’s governor entered the building and agreed to listen to his demands, ending a nearly three-hour standoff.

The man had been holding the captive, a receptionist, in a mail room outside the governor’s mansion and was demanding to talk with Gov. Sila Calderon.

The ordeal ended at the door to the room, where police were negotiating with the assailant by speaking loudly through the closed door.

Negotiator Col. Jose Caldero said the governor accompanied him to the door, where he told the hostage-taker he would read the governor a letter the man brought demanding a house and job. Once Caldero finished, the man called out that he wanted to see the governor to make sure she had heard.

“He opened the door, saw the governor and immediately let go of the knife,” Caldero said. The governor didn’t have to say a word, he said.

Man says he sought help
The man, 28-year-old Roberto Figueroa, was arrested after he put down the foot-long kitchen knife.

“I didn’t come planning to do this,” Figueroa said later at the police station. “I came to see if she would listen to me.”

When she did, he said, “I got down on my knees in front of her and begged forgiveness.”

About 100 people in the street, from construction workers to office employees, applauded when Calderon emerged with a hand on the shoulder of receptionist Iris Nereida Marcillio, who appeared unhurt.

Police led Figueroa out in handcuffs and took him away in an unmarked car.

Dozens of police had surrounded the three-story building after Figueroa took the woman hostage about 9:30 a.m., sending other office workers running.

The governor made the decision to enter and negotiate despite the advice of police, who had said it could be dangerous. She entered while police carrying metal shields stood outside the entrance.

The man had demanded to talk only to the governor, said chief-of-staff Cesar Miranda. Calderon went inside the building about noon and emerged minutes later, returning to the mansion with the freed woman.

'May God forgive me'
The standoff took place in a building that belongs to La Fortaleza mansion, about 150 yards from the mansion’s main entrance in Old San Juan, the historic district of the U.S. territory’s capital.

Police chief Agustin Cartagena said Thursday that police would re-evaluate security around the governor’s mansion.

The man had lost a government job several years ago in the town of Manati and the Caribbean island’s north coast, officials said. He had made contact several times with the governor’s office to demand help, most recently on Wednesday, officials said.

Figueroa had previously been arrested for robbery and car theft, police said.

“May God forgive me,” Figueroa said at the police station, where he was in a cell awaiting formal charges. “But I’m not doing anything bad — I’m asking for help.”