|Hostage-Taker Had Troubled Past
December 1, 2007
ROCHESTER, N.H. - A man wearing what looked like a bomb beneath his sweater and tie walked into Hillary Clinton's campaign office yesterday, taking three staff members, a volunteer, and an infant hostage, forcing the closure of the senator's campaign offices throughout Iowa and New Hampshire, and paralyzing this small city on the Maine border, authorities said.
After a 5.5-hour standoff, in which all the hostages were released, Leeland E. Eisenberg walked out of the office on North Main Street with his arms up, slowly removed his sweater, and pulled off the faux bomb duct-taped to his waist. Members of the New Hampshire State Police SWAT team ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him. He was charged with kidnapping, reckless endangerment, and criminal threatening, authorities said.
Eisenberg, 46, of Somersworth, N.H., grew up in Groton, spent time in Massachusetts prisons, and was one of 541 victims of the clergy sexual abuse scandal who received payments in the landmark 2003 settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, according to court records and a source involved with the litigation. He was reportedly due in court yesterday to face domestic violence charges.
In a news conference last night after police arrested Eisenberg, New Hampshire's attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, said she or federal authorities may file additional charges.
"We're grateful that there was a peaceful outcome and that the hostages are now safe and with their loved ones," Ayotte said.
State Police Colonel Frederick Booth said Eisenberg was carrying road flares and a mock detonator, which never presented a threat.
But the possibility of a bomb brought the city of about 30,000 to a standstill as agents from the FBI, Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined bomb squads and SWAT teams from the State Police and local officers, who blocked off the downtown area and trained automatic weapons on the office. Officials immediately put local schools on lockdown, evacuated businesses, and shuttered other presidential campaign offices in the area.
It was not clear last night why Eisenberg targeted Clinton's office. Rochester Police Chief David Dubois said he had "personal reasons," but he declined to elaborate.
Eisenberg called CNN three times during the standoff and told staff members he wanted help getting psychiatric care because he lacked money, the Associated Press reported.
"I need to speak to Hillary Clinton," CNN quoted him as saying. "Something's got to change. Ordinary people need help" with their insurance.
Authorities said they denied Eisenberg's request to speak to Clinton because they did not want to give up a bargaining chip while they negotiated for the hostages' release.
"As a tactical standpoint, that would have not been a wise move," said Booth, who said Eisenberg also demanded cigarettes, a Pepsi, and alcohol. Authorities gave him only cigarettes.
Dubois said Eisenberg released the infant and its mother almost immediately after entering the office shortly before 1 p.m. Over the course of the afternoon, he released a man and a woman. Another woman being held hostage managed to escape, Booth said.
Eisenberg initially would not talk to authorities, Booth said, but gradually the negotiators built a relationship with him and began communicating with him by speakerphone. Eisenberg spent about a half-hour in the office by himself before he walked out with his hands up shortly after 6 p.m.
Booth said negotiators had promised "that we would be there to help him."
The authorities would not identify the hostages, some of whom they said helped mediate between Eisenberg and the State Police negotiators. Booth said the hostages had been communicating with police during the standoff. "I don't think he fully had control of them during the whole process," Booth said.
The hostages "were extremely helpful in bringing this to a successful conclusion," he added.
After speaking to reporters outside her home in Washington, D.C., last night, Clinton flew to New Hampshire, where she thanked law enforcement and her staff.
Flanked by law enforcement officials at the Portsmouth Sheraton Harborside Hotel, Clinton said: "It was for me and my campaign a difficult day."
She said she spoke to law enforcement officials and Governor John Lynch throughout the day.
"We are immensely relieved that this has ended peacefully, but it is with a great sense of gratitude that I came here tonight," she said.
The New York senator and presidential candidate said that talking to family members of those held hostage was "the hardest part for me. I really commend their extraordinary courage."
She said the campaign had to come to a standstill because it was focused on the hostage crisis.
Eisenberg, formerly known as Ralph E. Woodward Jr., served time at Bridgewater State Hospital and MCI-Concord, according to court records.
In 2002, he filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court against Bernard Cardinal Law, in Law's capacity as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, alleging he had been molested by a priest at St. Catherine's Church in Westwood in the early 1980s, beginning when he was 21.
In the suit, Eisenberg said his mother died when he was young and he was abused by his alcoholic father. He alleges he was homeless and living in abandoned cars in an Ayer junkyard when a priest invited him to live and work at St. Catherine's and another priest plied him with alcohol, showed him pornographic material, and molested him.
In an interview with the Lowell Sun in 2002 after his suit was filed, Eisenberg said he was ashamed and mortified after being sexually assaulted by the priest. "Subsequently, I spent years sexually objectifying women and womanizing in a futile attempt to prove I wasn't a" homosexual, the Sun quoted Eisenberg as saying.
The priest denied molesting Eisenberg, and the newspaper reported that Eisenberg's paternal aunt said, "He's telling you a big story."
It was unclear how much money Eisenberg received as part of the 2003 settlement with the church.
IN 1999 and 2000, Eisenberg was incarcerated in a facility for sexual offenders at Bridgewater State Hospital, according to state court records. He was later transferred to MCI-Concord, the records show.
The Lowell Sun reported five years ago that in 1986, he forced a woman at knifepoint in Leominster to perform oral sex on him.
According to court records, Eisenberg filed a series of lawsuits in federal and state court against prison officials during stints at MCI-Concord between 1995 and 2002, but all of them were ultimately dismissed.
He was last released from a sentence at MCI-Concord in March 2005, said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction. She would not specify the crime or the length of the sentence.
Dubois said that Eisenberg is known to Rochester police and that his background, along with information from residents, was "helpful to us in resolving this."
Eisenberg, who was arrested wearing gray slacks, a white dress shirt, and a red tie, had been due in court yesterday on a domestic violence complaint filed by his wife, Lisa (Warren), Foster's Daily Democrat reported on its website. Divorce papers filed Tuesday showed Eisenberg had been charged with criminal mischief involving a domestic dispute and violating a protective order, the paper reported.
In court papers, Warren attributed the divorce to irreconcilable differences and contended that Eisenberg suffered from "severe alcohol and drug abuse," according to the paper.
At the trailer park where he lived in Somersworth, about 10 miles from Rochester, neighbors described Eisenberg as "crazy" and said he was "always starting fights." They said he and his wife moved this summer into an old trailer, which they refurbished.
"From day one, I said, 'This guy is nuts,' " said Kathleen Carlson, who lives in the trailer next door to Eisenberg and his wife.
She and other neighbors said Eisenberg was unemployed and frequently drunk.
"He started fights with people leaving my house," Carlson said. "He was always drunk. I felt sorry for his wife. He was always fighting with her, always throwing things at her. I told her, 'If you have any trouble during the night and you're scared, come over and knock on my door.' He is crazy. I never wanted to speak to him."
Erik Carlsen, who lives in the trailer across from Eisenberg, said Eisenberg once told him he spent more than a decade in prison for the rape and murder of a girl.
He said Eisenberg dressed in a suit and tie nearly every day. "He always looks like he's ready to go to court," Carlsen said.
But he said Eisenberg seemed bookish and had an artistic side. He was impressed by the way he fixed up his trailer and built a neat rock wall beside it.
"Some days he sounded really intelligent, other days he was very distant," Carlsen said. "He was just a real strange individual."
Last night police sent a robot to the contraption Eisenberg had dropped in the street and destroyed it. The blast reverberated through the downtown.
Authorities said Eisenberg was being held at the Rochester Police Department.
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