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'It's Been a Very Difficult Day' Clinton Says After N.H. Hostage Situation Resolved

A photo of the Clinton campaign office in Rochester, N.H., taken from a news helicopter on Friday. (Courtesy MSNBC).

ROCHESTER, N.H.--A man who allegedly held as many as four hostages in the small, store-front office of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton here surrendered peacefully to police after a five-hour standoff.

Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) addressed the press shortly following the end of the hostage situation, saying she was "relieved to have this situation end so peacefully." She said she was traveling now to New Hampshire to meet with her staff and to thank the law enforcement officials involved. "This has been a very hard day for all of us and our campaign," she said.

A man CNN identified as Leeland "Lee" Eisenberg was escorted from the building shortly after 6 p.m. by heavily armed law enforcement officers who searched him and handcuffed him as he lay facedown on the ground. The network also reported that Eisenberg had been in touch with CNN during the incident.

Immediately prior to Eisenberg's exit, two officers walked out of the office with a young man and escorted him to a police vehicle.

At 5:30 p.m., a young woman walked out of the Clinton office, apparently becoming the latest hostage to be released. The young woman, wearing jeans and a black shirt, was escorted down to a police armored car by a SWAT officer. It was still unclear, however, if any hostages remain.

Capt. Paul Callaghan of the Rochester Police Department told reporters at an afternoon news conference that the situation remains "fluid" though he described the small downtown area as "stabilized." He described the downtown as "safe" but later warned locals to "stay away from downtown."

Callahan's comments did little to clarify the status of the situation, in which a man entered Clinton's office, apparently with a bomb strapped to his chest, and took several people hostage.

Several times during his news conference, Callahan used the present tense to say that "this is a hostage situation." But pressed by reporters to say whether hostages remain in the building with the suspect, Callahan refused to say anything more.

"We are investigating a hostage situation," Callahan said again. But reporters at the scene said there seemed to be little tension among police, who appeared to have stood down from the crisis response earlier in the afternoon.

Witnesses said an armored truck with the Dover, N.H. SWAT team drove up to the Clinton storefront at about 3 p.m. and police used the vehicle's loudspeaker to communicate with the hostage-taker. Several witnesses said they heard police promising that they would not storm the facility and that they wanted to talk.

A few minutes later, witnesses said police opened the door to the office and threw a phone attached to a long cable into the office, apparently in an attempt to communicate with the suspect. The witnesses said that sometime before that, a young woman in her 20s came out of the office and was escorted to the command post by a SWAT officer.

Kevin Baldwin, age 19, said the woman "looked familiar" and said he thought she was not an out-of-town campaign worker but rather a local girl who had attended the area high school.

By 4 p.m., police appeared to be ratcheting down what had been a massive response to a threat against the campaign of the leading Democratic presidential candidate. The tactical squad for the neighboring town of Dover was seen leaving the scene.

The situation began when the man entered the office around 1 p.m., ordered people onto the floor and then let a mother and her baby leave, Maj. Michael Hambrook of New Hampshire State Police told the Associated Press.

The store-front office in the small city about an hour from Manchester was quickly surrounded by police and SWAT units while TV helicopters captured the response from the air.

Aides to the senator declined to comment on the situation. Calls to most of her other New Hampshire offices were greeted with a taped message. A woman who answered at her Dover office said "we're in lockdown and really that's all I know."

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the Clinton campaign said, "There is an ongoing situation in our Rochester, NH office. We are in close contact with state and local authorities and are acting at their direction. We will release additional details as appropriate."

The Rochester office of Clinton rival Barack Obama, located two doors away in the same strip center, was also evacuated by police, according to Obama spokesman Bill Burton. CNN is reporting that John Edwards's office was also evacuated.

Witness Lettie Tzizik told television station WMUR of Manchester that she spoke to a woman shortly after she was released from the office by the suspect. The woman was carrying an infant, and crying.

"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.

Clinton's whereabouts were being carefully guarded by the campaign. The senator was scheduled to attend the Democratic National Committee's annual meeting in Vienna, Virginia but changed her plans did not appear at the event, according to aides.

Longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes was with Clinton when news of the hostage situation broke, and said she "seemed very concerned about the whole situation. She canceled her speech and was waiting to hear from the negotiators" on the ground about whether to go ahead with her plans to fly to NH, which are now up in the air.

WMUR also quoted a woman who worked in a nearby office. "I walked out and I immediately started running, and I saw that the road was blocked off. They told me run and keep going," Cassandra Hamilton told the station.

The Clinton campaign has dozens of storefront campaign offices around New Hampshire. A strategist for the Clinton campaign has said Rochester was one of several towns identified as worthwhile for a campaign office because it was viewed as an "emerging Democratic area."

"This year we looked beyond the framework for areas that were increasingly leaning Democrat," the strategist said in an interview last month. "We looked at the profile of our likely voter, and said, Rochester fits that."

--Alec MacGillis and Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  November 30, 2007; 7:00 PM ET
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