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Maine Gunman Held Fifth-Graders Hostage

A gunman who had been on the lam for a week held 11 fifth-graders hostage at a school Friday but was tackled outside a classroom without any harm to the children, police said.

Randall Hofland, 55, had released all the students and had turned over a gun to one of the former hostages before he was arrested at Stockton Springs Elementary School, authorities said.

He was taken to jail and all of the school's pupils, about 80, were taken by bus to an elementary school in neighboring Searsport, where witnesses were being questioned by police.

"These children are very brave. They did a tremendous job," Gov. John Baldacci said.

The gunman walked into a fifth-grade classroom around the start of the day. The teacher escaped to call the police, leaving the students alone with the gunman, according to reporter Amy Erickson of CBS affiliate WABI in Bangor.

"Initially there was 11 children and he let some go," State Police Lt. Gerard Madden told Erickson. "Then Detective Jason Andrews from the state police and several other troopers, deputies and police officers arrived, secured the school. And detective Andrews began talking to Randall at which time he let students go, then he himself came out and he was arrested."

Police made the arrest around 9 a.m.

A two-mile stretch of U.S. 1 was closed to traffic for a time during the search, which involved more than three dozen police officers, including the state police tactical team.

Schools in School Administrative District 56, including Stockton Springs Elementary School, were closed for the day after Hofland fled out of concern for students' safety.

The school serves kindergarten through fifth grade.

Searsport Police Chief Dick LaHaye said Hofland had lived in the area for about seven years, most recently in a trailer off a dirt road.

LaHaye said police had not had previous contact with Hofland, but he was aware of reports that Hofland may have posted comments on an Internet message board questioning whether police had the right to stop motorists at roadblocks.

"You might be able to draw the conclusion that he might have issues with those types of actions," LaHaye said.

Baldacci praised school and police for their fast response Friday. He said the school secretary called a "code blue" and then dialed 911. After being locked down on Oct. 24, the day after the traffic incident, the schools have been in a heightened state of security, he said.

Details of the school's emergency plan weren't immediately available. The Maine Department of Education began requiring schools to enlist local police, fire and emergency preparedness officials in creating emergency response plans in 2002.

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