FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - As the nation watches the events surrounding a 5-year-old boy being held hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama, hostage negotiator Victor Torres is paying attention from a different perspective.
Torres has been on the Fort Wayne Police Department's Hostage Negotiation Team for 19 years.
"It's very emotional, very stressful, very draining [to be a negotiator]," Torres said.
While every situation is different, the basic strategies are the same. The negotiator tries to build a rapport with the suspect and gain trust.
"We're concerned about life first," Torres said. "We want to get everyone out safely, including the perpetrator. They have needs that have drawn them to this crisis and I try to assess those needs and help them as well. But, the victim is the priority."
In Alabama, a 65-year-old man is accused of shooting and killing a school bus driver and abducting a 5-year-old boy. They're holed up in an underground bunker. Friday, negotiations entered day four, which forensic psychologist Stephen Ross said could actually be a good sign.
"They're thinking and haven't decided death is the only option for the hostage or themselves," Ross said.
Torres said it is positive that the communication is still happening, but said the duration of a negotiation isn't always an indicator of what the outcome will be.
"It's not unusual to be gaining ground and it can turn like a roller coaster ride. You might say the wrong word or hit a soft spot and they're angry again and you're back to square one," Torres said.
Ross added getting into a hostage taker's head can take a toll on the negotiator.
"A negotiator will get emotionally involved in it," he said. "A good negotiator will give hope to the hostage taker. When someone is mentally disturbed, what they're looking for is some type of peace."
Hostage takers can vary. Some are very organized and skilled negotiators themselves. Others are unpredictable and may be suffering from mental disorders. But, Ross said they tend to have one thing in common.
"They don't really forecast what the future will be," he said.
That's where a negotiator can help the suspect see the best possible outcome. In the Alabama man's case, Torres said he would imagine negotiators are appealing to any sympathies he may have toward the boy, who is said to have a mental disorder similar to autism.
"I would explain to this person that he too may suffer from a mental health disorder as the young boy does and to try to put a face to the boy. I'd use his name a lot and make it so it's not just a victim to the perpetrator. He's a boy with a family and interests," he said.
Adding to the difficulty level of the situation, the man's accused of killing a school bus driver before abducting the boy.
"Hopefully he doesn't feel he doesn't have anything to lose. I'd try to get him to focus on you're a victim too and you need help," Torres said. "But, you can't look away from what's already been done and the charges he'll be facing."
A big challenge is that the man and boy are in an underground bunker. That makes it hard for tactical teams to help assess the threat level or take any action.
The novelty of the bunker will no doubt draw a lot of attention from hostage negotiators across the country. Torres explained that high-profile or unique cases can become teachable moments for other agencies. After the cases are all closed, negotiators are often asked to speak at conferences about their experience.
Torres was asked to speak at several conferences across the country about how he successfully talked an Army Reservist out after a six-hour standoff where the man had taken his wife and toddler hostage.
"It's a teaching moment and see what they did and what worked and what didn't," Torres said.
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