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A bang and a flash rang out around 9:25 p.m. Wednesday in the Butte Civic Center parking lot before cops swarmed a bus and at last apprehended a man who had been engaged in armed standoff for nearly 10 hours.

Amazingly, no one was injured and no gunshots were fired.

At the scene, officers fired chemical agents into the bus after the flash and bang. The man then descended the bus steps with his hands up.

Once he was off the bus, officers with guns trained on the man made him remove his clothing. The suspect also removed what officers apparently believed could have been an explosive device strapped to his leg before he was taken into custody, wearing only bright purple boxers. 

It was a relatively quick end to a prolonged and tense standoff.

After the man was in custody, a robot and a man in a bomb suit scanned the area around the bus.

An eyewitness said the incident began while bus was heading from Missoula to Billings and a man put a gun to the bus driver's head and said he wanted to go to the Butte courthouse.

The driver drove to the Civic Center instead and purportedly told the man they had arrived at the courthouse. The driver then disabled the bus. The driver and the passengers, except for the one man who was held, were allowed to get off immediately, the witness said.

Terry Reed, manager of the bus transfer station, interviewed earlier in the afternoon, said the driver immediately called police, then came into the station in tears.

Reed said bus-depot personnel aren't trained for something like this, but drivers may be.

"There's no way to prepare for this, at least not to this degree," he said.

After the driver left the scene, suspect remained on the hijacked the bus with one hostage. 

Around 2:30 p.m., the hostage-taker asked for a telephone, officers were heard to say.

At about 2:45 p.m. police advanced toward the bus behind shields, then left an item in a plastic bag about 10 yards from the bus door and withdrew. A few minutes later, they moved the bag forward to the open door of the bus, leaving it on the second step. The hostage then ran off the bus and was seized, then evaluated by police.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Sheriff Ed Lester said in a statement that Butte police were negotiating with "a suspect" on the bus. He said the hostage "has been rescued," and negotiations are continuing.

He confirmed that the man had a handgun "and possibly an explosive device." Lester asked that people stay away from the area around the Civic Center and the transfer station.

Shortly after 4 p.m., a Lewis and Clark County bomb squad arrived on the scene.

For the next several hours, as afternoon turned to night, with bomb squads, SWAT and other armed officers surrounding the bus, Butte police negotiated with him. He was believed to have had an explosive device as well as a gun.

The long negotiation then continued into the evening. At about 7:40 p.m., Sheriff Ed Lester sent a terse update: "Still negotiating with suspect -- no changes."

Hostage emerges from the bus

Officers order a man believed to be the hostage to get down as he escapes from the bus.

Civic Center Road and Harrison Avenue around the Civic Center were blocked off for the duration of the standoff.

Bill Melvin, Civic Center manager, said the facility was evacuated early in the afternoon, and basketball practice and other meetings were canceled.

As the situation wore on, police dealt with the chill of the day as well as the tension. One officer, in a prone position on his stomach on the ground near the Civic Center, his weapon trained on the bus, sipped from a coffee cup, his eyes never leaving the bus.

At 8:30 p.m., the police approached the bus again behind shields, and dropped off a package on the bus steps. This time, the suspect did not immediately retrieve it.

Butte police were still surrounding the bus, some with weapons at the ready, others in cars and inside the transfer station, which had become a law enforcement base of operations over the course of the incident. Police officers moved around inside the station. The suspect paced inside of the bus, moving up and down the aisle, visible only by the dim beams of lights shining in from a nearby police cruiser. It was cold, quiet, dark and tense.

Then, not quite an hour later, the end came quickly, with the suspect at last led away in handcuffs, in bright police spotlights. 

Reporters Annie Pentilla, Susan Dunlap and Mike Smith contributed to this story.

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