In the pre-dawn darkness of Jan. 18, inmate Ricky Wassenaar stepped out of a watchtower at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis firing an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
The shots were cover for his cellmate, Steven Coy, battling corrections officers in the fenced yard.
Wassenaar was dressed in an officer’s brown uniform. A confused lieutenant shouted: “What are you shooting at?”
The response – “You, a-hole!” – sent officers scattering for cover.
Coy bolted to the tower where Wassenaar already had beaten and handcuffed two officers. As the tower door slammed shut behind them, a botched escape became the start of America’s longest prison hostage ordeal.
The standoff between the two inmates and teams of negotiators and armed officers would last 15 days. The crisis and its aftermath generated hundreds of news reports. Two separate investigations are now underway to determine what went wrong at the prison. But the drama of how the standoff unfolded and was ultimately brought to an end has remained buried in official records.
In this package, The Arizona Republic recounts the standoff in human terms, from the perspective of those involved.
The story is based on 50 hours of taped negotiations between the inmates and negotiators; official debriefings of corrections officers; investigative reports; inmate files; command logs; other public records and Republic interviews. In the story, two women remain unidentified because The Republic does not identify sexual-assault victims.