Police confirm identity of hostage taker

Leeland Eisenberg threatened "to use explosives" and demanded Pepsi, alcohol and a chance to speak with Hillary Clinton.

Published December 1, 2007 1:15AM (EST)

ROCHESTER, N.H.--Strapped with road flares and duct tape, the man said he had a bomb. Over the next five hours, he listed off his demands: cigarettes, Pepsi, alcohol and a chance to speak with Hillary Clinton.

At a wide-ranging press conference Friday in an abandoned church, state and local authorities detailed the standoff that focused national attention on this quiet New England town known as the "Lilac City." They named the alleged perpetrator who had barged into Clinton's local headquarters Friday, shortly before 12:40 p.m. "threatening to use explosives." He is Leeland Eisenberg, a resident of nearby Somersworth, who was born in 1961, police said.

Police described how he immediately let one of his four adult hostages free, because she was with a child not yet one year old. They told how another Clinton staffer later fled the office on her own accord. They told of how Eisenberg began making phone calls from inside the office, and initially refused offers to speak with police. Eventually a state negotiator arranged the release of the final two staffers, a man and a woman who were not named. At some point in the afternoon, Eisenberg was given cigarettes. Finally, after about 30 minutes alone in the office, Eisenberg came out on his own accord and was arrested. After a tense afternoon that shut down the city center, no one was injured. Domino's Pizza delivered a stack of pies for the famished police.

At Friday's press conference, police declined to identify the reason Eisenberg wanted to speak to Clinton. "For his own personal reasons," said one official. When pressed, state police Col. Frederick Booth declined to go into specifics. "He had certain things he wanted help with," Booth said.

Police indicated that the state charges against Eisenberg would likely include kidnapping and criminal threatening, though there was the possibility of federal charges as well. As of 8 p.m., Eisenberg was still being held for interrogation at the Rochester police department, police said.

Hillary Clinton, who had cancelled a speech in Virginia Friday because of the crisis, flew to New Hampshire hours later, and announced a late-night press conference in Portsmouth. On Saturday, she plans to thank law enforcement and meet with her staff.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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