SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) — A gunman who lured firefighters to his Georgia home with an emergency call, then held four of them hostage for hours before being shot to death faced a series of personal and financial calamities before he lashed out.
Lauren Brown's life apparently reached a crisis this spring. With his power, cable and other utilities cut off because of nonpayment, the 55-year-old had half a dozen guns in his house and spent weeks planning the kidnapping, targeting firefighters rather than police Wednesday so he wouldn't be shot, authorities said Thursday.
"We knew he wasn't quite normal, but this is a real shock," said David Books, a former colleague of Brown's and a friend until they had a falling out years ago. He said he never noticed any signs that Brown could be violent.
The specific reasons that Brown chose to lash out aren't known, but Brown experienced personal and financial difficulties. He had separated from his wife years earlier, though he still lived across the street from her, her new husband and his two children, according to neighbors and people who knew the family. The living arrangement had long caused tension, said Books, who helped Brown move.
Books said Brown's mother eventually bought the house across from her son's ex-wife so her son could afford to live there.
"Having been a father myself, I can understand his desire to be as close to his children as possible, but given the acrimony between him and his wife — regardless of who might have been at fault — it looked to me like a situation that was going to turn out not to be very healthy," he said.
Brown worked long hours as a system engineer at IBM in the 1990s, Books said. Brown told his colleagues that he developed fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain, and left work on a medical retirement.
"For a while, he was in so much pain that he couldn't even think about working," Books said.
By 2002, Brown described himself as disabled in federal bankruptcy filings. He said he owed more than $100,000 to the Home Depot, banks and credit card companies. The records suggest that Brown was tapping into his retirement savings to make ends meet. A series of tax liens had been placed on his home, which slipped into foreclosure in recent months.
"He bragged about being an outstanding money manager," Books said. "I never really saw any evidence of that."
An insurer for IBM eventually refused to make disability payments to Brown, who was forced to return to the workforce, Books said. The two men last met at a business lunch around 2003 or 2004, though they kept in touch on Facebook since then. Brown had a live-in girlfriend for a time and wrote online of becoming a born-again Christian.
More recently, there were signs of trouble. Brown was arrested and booked into the Gwinnett County jail in 2010 after he failed to appear in court on a charge of striking an unmanned vehicle.
Brown called 911 Wednesday and said he was suffering from chest pains, and five Gwinnett County firefighters arrived at 3:48, believing it was a routine call, said Police Chief Charles Walters. Brown was lying in bed and appeared to be suffering from a condition that left him unable to move. But when they approached the bed to help him, he pulled out a handgun, Walters said.
He let one go to move the vehicles from the front of his house but kept the other four.