ST. CLOUD – Roughly eight hours into a nine-hour standoff at a Wells Fargo bank in St. Cloud on Thursday evening, crisis negotiators brought pizza to the bank's front doors.
Shortly after, the last of five hostages made a break for the door and rushed outside as officers entered the building and took the 35-year-old suspect into custody.
None of the captives — all employees of the bank on St. Cloud's west side — suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said. But the situation was fraught with threats from the suspect that escalated and waned during the afternoon and evening.
"This was ongoing for over eight hours, so the intensity builds in each passing minute," Police Chief Blair Anderson said Friday. "You have to be thinking ahead: What if? What if? That was the key phrase for me yesterday."
The suspect, Ray R. McNeary of Waite Park, was arrested about 10:30 p.m. Thursday. He was charged Friday with seven felony counts: one count of first-degree aggravated robbery, one count of second-degree assault and five counts of kidnapping with a dangerous weapon.
McNeary visited the bank at 200 33rd Ave. S. Thursday afternoon alleging fraud involving his account, according to the criminal complaint. The bank manager brought McNeary into his office but failed to locate an account, which only upset McNeary more. That led to a call from the bank to 911.
The stakes rose when the manager hit the silent panic alarm signifying a holdup. McNeary was demanding money and wanted to speak to the FBI. Five employees were held hostage in the lobby.
Negotiations began almost immediately after the robbery was reported about 1:45 p.m.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said a hostage told him McNeary asked to speak to Kleis by name, as well as the FBI and the media. Neither Kleis nor Anderson spoke with the suspect during negotiations.
"Everybody has a specific task, and mine is to make sure everybody on scene has what they need in order to do their job," Anderson said. "I'm not a negotiator so I don't get in the negotiator's way."
The request likely sped up the FBI's response, however.
"Normally when there's a bank robbery, that's automatic because that's federal jurisdiction but since the suspect asked for the FBI, that just hastened it for us," Anderson said.
Anderson emphasized Friday that the seamless collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as the department's training, helped ensure the best possible outcome of no severe physical injuries.
"It ends and begins with the negotiators," Anderson said.
During the standoff, McNeary forced the manager toward the vault, where a "large amount of cash" in a bag was given to him as the manager felt an unspecified object pressed into his back, according to the complaint filed in Stearns County District Court. McNeary grabbed the manager's wrist very hard, causing his watch to cut into his wrist.
McNeary told the manager and others that he wanted a "big show" with the FBI and lots of media, and said he'd take the victims with him, the complaint quoted him as saying. He also spoke of wanting the holdup to "go viral" and to be "a martyr."
He threw large amounts of cash all over inside the bank, then collected the employees' cellphones and slammed them down or put them in water.
As time passed, McNeary became more agitated and threatened to use the manager as a shield, mentioning they would "die together," the charges quoted him as saying.
Social media recordings made by McNeary on victims' phones showed him threatening to kill the manager while telling his captives and law enforcement that he intended to kill all of the employees and himself or force officers to kill him.
At one point, McNeary got behind the manager, put scissors to the front of his victim's neck and said, "I will have to shiv you in the neck," the charges read.
McNeary then pushed the manager to the ground and told him, "If you move, I swear to God I'll stab you."
Shortly after 7 p.m., a female employee raced toward the front door. McNeary tried to stop her, but she pushed past him and escaped, the complaint said. Cheers erupted from the hundreds of people who had gathered across the street to watch.
Soon after, he allowed a second female employee to leave because she was experiencing medical problems. Two more employees were soon allowed to leave. As each employee emerged physically unscathed, the crowd cheered.
About 10:30 p.m., after more than eight hours of threats and negotiation, negotiators were able to communicate to the bank manager that law enforcement teams were outside the front door ready to enter, the complaint said. The manager ran for the front door as the teams from the FBI and St. Cloud Police Department entered, protecting the manager and capturing McNeary.
"I think [negotiators] did a phenomenal job because it ebbs and flows all the time," Anderson said. "There were times when this individual escalated and got agitated and they were able to continuously bring him back down. That's just a credit to their skill."
All field offices of the FBI have agents trained in crisis negotiation, according to Kevin Smith, public affairs officer with the FBI's Minneapolis Division.
"The goal is to keep subjects engaged and talking to us to work toward peaceful endings to critical events," Smith stated in an e-mail.
Smith declined to share details of negotiations with McNeary, but Anderson said it's not uncommon for negotiators to bring food to a suspect or hostages, whether requested or not.
"Especially when you have an incident that lasts this long, people are hungry, right? It's been eight hours that they've been in there," Anderson said. "Even if they're not physically hungry, if it provides them some comfort, we want to make sure we take care of their human needs, as well."
McNeary was known to authorities before Thursday's hostage situation. His criminal history in Minnesota stretches back to 2007 and includes two convictions for disorderly conduct and one each for misdemeanor domestic assault, trespassing and terroristic threats.
"We have had numerous contacts with this individual dating back at least a decade, including violent crime," Anderson said Thursday.
Still pending is a felony domestic assault case in connection with allegations that he hit his girlfriend in the face two months ago and inflicted numerous injuries.
McNeary appeared in court late Friday and remains jailed without bail. Court records do not show an attorney for him.
Both Anderson and Kleis said the situation brought back memories and emotions from the 2016 stabbing at the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, where a man stabbed 10 people before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
"A crisis is a crisis, especially while you're immersed in it," Anderson said.
"The initial call [from Anderson] on a hostage situation — you never want to get that call," Kleis said. "Fortunately, it had a good outcome at the end — better than what we've seen around the world when it comes to hostage situations."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.