Pittsburgh hostage suspect 'a sweet guy,' ex-girlfriend says
By Adam Smeltz
Published: Saturday, September 22, 2012, 11:38 a.m.
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Je'Nauba Lipford-Watts didn't know a police standoff had broken out, let alone that her ex-boyfriend was at the center of it.
She had been cleaning at home on Friday morning when an officer appeared about noon and asked her to go Downtown — with little explanation.
Within hours, police whisked Lipford-Watts into Three Gateway Center, Downtown, for a face-to-face meeting with Klein Michael Thaxton, 22, of McKeesport. She still called him “a sweet guy” and a friend on Saturday.
“This is the only way I can get you to listen to me,” Thaxton told his former flame as they spoke on the 16th floor.
Police stood by as Lipford-Watts, 23, and Thaxton talked for about 15 minutes. Officials allowed the visit after Thaxton released his hostage, business executive Charles Breitsman, 58, of Ligonier, who had been held at knife-point for more than five hours.
Thaxton remained in the Allegheny County Jail on Saturday on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and terroristic threats. Allegheny County District Judge Edward Burnett set a $1 million bond early that morning.
“Mr. Thaxton has expressed remorse for what has happened,” his attorneys Kirsha Weyandt and Kelly Goodrich said in a statement. “However, at this time we do not wish to speculate as to why this alleged incident occurred. Moreover, we are unable to discuss his mental health history or the role that a mental health disorder may have played in this matter.”
Weyandt and Goodrich are with Allegheny County Office of Conflict Counsel, a county office that provides indigent adult defendants with representation when the public defender's office has a conflict.
The standoff, which began about 8:15 a.m. Friday, forced authorities to block access to part of the Golden Triangle, reroute traffic and suspend some public transit.
Lipford-Watts said she hadn't seen Thaxton since about late 2008, when he enlisted in the Army, though they stayed in touch through Facebook.
In an interview in her Knoxville residence on Saturday, she said Thaxton is “really not that bad a person.” He claimed to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, said he was taking medication and had not been himself since the military discharged him June 2010, Lipford-Watts said.
He told her he had served in Iraq, but military records show he was a combat engineer based at Fort Riley, Kan., and was not deployed. He joined the year after Lipford-Watts said the two broke up.
“He sent me a couple threats (following his military discharge). But that's not Klein,” she said, adding that he should have been mentally evaluated upon his discharge. She said he would turn angry when he thought she was ignoring his Facebook messages.
The truth, Lipford-Watts said, is that “I go on Facebook very sparingly.”
She said Thaxton arrived unannounced on Wednesday to visit her in Knoxville. She wasn't home at the time.
As Thaxton negotiated with police on Friday morning, Lipford-Watts was on his mind again. He asked officers several times to shoot him and focused on his break-up with Lipford-Watts, wanting to see her, police said.
After she arrived at the nearby Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, she recorded an audio message saying she was there and wasn't mad, Lipford-Watts said. Since Thaxton got what he wanted — her presence — he should give up the hostage, she said in the recording.
Police relayed that to Thaxton. When they took Lipford-Watts to the C.W. Breitsman Associates office, where he remained holed up, “I had to explain to him that I wasn't ignoring” him on Facebook.
“I had to stress that I've got a lot going on in my life,” said Lipford-Watts, who has a young son, Kayden, and a full-time job Downtown in telemarketing and communications.
Thaxton said he loved her, but he didn't try to rekindle their romance. “He didn't want to lose me as a friend” and thought the standoff was the only way to reach her.
While she is upset with Thaxton, she said he is not his normal self.
“That's not him. There's something wrong with him,” Lipford-Watts continued. “I can't fault someone for something that's wrong” so uncontrollably.
She said Thaxton needed to feel love. He had run-ins with police after his military discharge, including a carjacking in July 2011.
Thaxton had been staying in a halfway house when he woke up “in an evil mood” about 3 a.m. Friday, Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said.
“I just hope that he gets the help he needs,” Lipford-Watts said.
Staff writers Bill Vidonic and Jeremy Boren contributed to this story. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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